There has been a great deal of videos on gentle parenting circulating around various social media platforms. The hashtag #gentleparenting has garnered 3.7 billion TikTok views and the numbers are only growing.
The rise of social media has propelled this method, which originated from the growing body of psychological research focused on identifying the most effective strategies to enhance children’s well-being and foster positive connections with caregivers. As a result, this method has gained widespread popularity.
Gentle parenting is an evidence-based approach to raising children that focuses on building strong, respectful, and empathetic relationships between parents and their children. This parenting style is rooted in developmental psychology and child-centred philosophies, seeking to foster a nurturing environment where desirable qualities are reinforced in the child through compassion and consistent boundaries. The concept emphasises prioritising emotional connection, active listening, and positive communication with the aim of nurturing the child’s self-esteem, emotional intelligence, and overall well-being.
The exact origin of the term is somewhat difficult to pinpoint because it is an approach to parenting that has evolved over time. It draws from various psychological and child development theories, as well as cultural and historical influences. It became more widely recognised and used in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as discussions about different parenting styles and approaches gained prominence, particularly with the rise of online communities and social media platforms.
Change is often met with resistance, especially when it challenges established norms. This parenting style represents a departure from traditional authoritarian or punitive approaches, which can evoke resistance from those who believe in the effectiveness of more traditional methods. The term gained popularity through the efforts of various authors, advocates, and parenting communities who used it to describe their approach to parenting. But given its fairly recent exposure to the mainstream crowd, there can be a discrepancy in its representation in the media. Some media portrayals of gentle parenting tend to oversimplify or misrepresent the philosophy, leading to polarised opinions and misunderstandings.
One of the most common misconceptions in gentle parenting is the lack of discipline towards the child. Critics may assume that it means avoiding discipline altogether or not setting any boundaries whatsoever. But that is simply not the case, the reality is that this method does apply disciplinary reinforcements; it is just based on understanding, communication, and mutual collaboration rather than punishment and control.
Despite a fair amount of discourse surrounding the controversy of the topic, advocates suggest that the skills and values cultivated through the method can lead to a range of positive outcomes in adulthood. These effects can be seen through the direct correlation of the actions that are based on gentle parenting values.
The child’s emotional regulation and intelligence are cultivated in gentle parenting in a number of ways. One of which is by having the parents practise active listening and show genuine empathy towards their children’s feelings and concerns. The acknowledgement and validation of the child’s emotions fosters a sense of emotional security and teaches children that their emotions are important and worthy of attention. Another way is instead of using time-outs, parents are encouraged to have time-ins; where a child is guided through a calming process in the presence of a parent. Over time, this helps children develop stronger emotional intelligence, communication skills, and self-soothing techniques in a supportive environment.
A vital part of the practice involves parents modelling the behaviour they want to see in their children. Children often learn by example, so when parents consistently display empathy, kindness, and respectful communication, children are more likely to emulate these behaviours in their interactions with others. With the emphasis on empathy, understanding, and validation in practice and example, it can contribute to a child’s positive self-esteem and self-image. Children may grow up feeling more confident and secure in themselves.
By respecting a child’s boundaries and teaching them about consent from an early age, gentle parenting promotes the development of healthy relationships and communication skills. Children learn that their feelings and boundaries are important and should be respected by others. In correlation, another aspect is addressed when the child is facing conflict or boundary issues with other individuals. When the child is habituated to non-violent communication–which involves expressing feelings and needs without blaming or criticising–it teaches them respectful communication patterns and conflict resolution skills. Children who grow up witnessing and practising nonviolent communication may be less likely to resort to aggression in conflicts and more likely to collaborate to find solutions.
But above all, none of the steps would be nearly as effective without the key factor, the child’s trust. This is why in gentle parenting, it is crucial to enforce consistent routines and predictability. Not only can it contribute to a child’s overall sense of well-being, but it also helps them develop a sense of trust in their caregivers through the provision of stability and safety.
Although it may seem simple, gentle parenting requires the parents to master their emotional self-control and a tremendous amount of mental energy, which is a skill that requires constant practice and patience. Resorting to punitive punishments or physical reprimanding towards a misbehaving child can feel much easier for an agitated parent instead of remaining calm and empathising, in addition to being consistently loving yet firm. However, in turn, this approach improves parental well-being as much as the child’s. By focusing on understanding and connection, parents may feel reduced stress and improved well-being, as well as a more long-term harmonious family environment.
Parenting is a complex and multi-faceted endeavour, and the results of any style may vary depending on a variety of factors such as individual circumstances, cultural factors, and the consistency of the approach. It is important to acknowledge that while the perceived effects of gentle parenting are often reported anecdotally, there might not be extensive scientific research that definitively proves these outcomes yet. As with any parenting philosophy, individuals should assess their own unique family dynamics and values when considering the approach that aligns best with their goals.
Discussions about parenting styles should be approached with an open mind and a willingness to understand different perspectives. While gentle parenting may be controversial, it is not a rigid principle, but rather a flexible and evolving approach that continues to be shaped by ongoing research, experiences, and the changing needs of families; where it continues to gain popularity as an alternative to more punitive methods.