Redefining Discipline: The Gentle Parenting Revolution

Let’s face it, gentle parenting gets a bad rap. Many of us became familiar with the term "gentle parenting" during the pandemic, and since then we’ve seen an uptick in social media creators showcasing examples of gentle parenting online. Despite their best efforts, however, there still remains misunderstanding and confusion about what gentle parenting actually is. In fact, if you ask the average parent, particularly parents of color, they will almost unanimously describe it as ineffective, permissive, and even dangerous.

Some teachers have even come out to declare that gentle parenting is causing behavioral problems in school.

These suppositions all operate under the premise that gentle parenting lacks structure and discipline. They believe that the parents who adhere to this parenting philosophy eschew maintaining any sort of authority in their household in favor of being their child’s friend.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, the psychologist and parenting expert who is credited with introducing the idea of gentle parenting describes it as parenting that "focuses on building connection, having empathy for what children are feeling and mindful discipline, with a focus on teaching and guiding, and setting up age-appropriate boundaries and limits."

What’s often overlooked, however, is that gentle parenting falls under the umbrella of authoritative parenting:

According to the American Psychology Association, authoritative parents are nurturing, responsive, and supportive, yet set firm limits for their children. Current and past research overwhelmingly tells us that authoritative parents are more likely to raise children who are confident, emotionally secure, and academically successful.

Why Ockwell-Smith opted to rebrand an existing parenting philosophy isn’t entirely clear, but what is clear is that maintaining authority and boundaries are core tenets of gentle parenting.

Striking a balance between gentleness and authority can sometimes feel like navigating a tightrope, though. On one hand, we want to nurture our children with empathy and understanding, while on the other, we need to instill discipline and respect. And despite popular and ill-informed opinions, you can be and still are an authority figure in your household if you are a gentle parent.

Without further adieu, here are five practical ways you can embrace gentle parenting without sacrificing your sense of authority:

1. Setting Clear Expectations:

Authority doesn't have to come in the form of harsh demands or rigid rules. In fact, setting clear expectations can be one of the most effective ways to establish authority while remaining gentle.

Children thrive on structure and predictability, so outlining expectations helps them understand what's expected of them. However, it's crucial to communicate these expectations in a calm and respectful manner.

Instead of barking orders, try having a conversation with your child about what behavior is acceptable and why. By involving them in the process and explaining the reasoning behind your expectations, you not only foster a sense of understanding but also demonstrate your authority in a gentle way.

2. Using Positive Reinforcement:

While consequences for misbehavior are necessary, positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool for gentle parenting. Instead of solely focusing on what your child is doing wrong, make a conscious effort to acknowledge their positive behavior. This not only boosts their self-esteem but also reinforces the behaviors you want to see more of. It can be as simple as giving a "thank you" for cleaning up their toys. Positive reinforcement creates a nurturing environment while still upholding your authority as a parent.

3. Practicing Active Listening:

Effective communication is key to any relationship, including the one between parent and child. Practicing active listening is a fundamental aspect of gentle parenting that allows you to connect with your child on a deeper level.

Instead of dismissing their feelings or rushing to provide solutions, take the time to truly listen to what they have to say.

Validate their emotions, even if you don't necessarily agree with them, and show empathy towards their experiences. By demonstrating that you value their thoughts and feelings, you build a foundation of trust and respect that strengthens your authority in a gentle way.


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4. Offering Choices and Empowerment:

Giving your child a sense of autonomy and control can go a long way in fostering a positive parent-child relationship. Instead of always dictating what they should do, offer them choices whenever possible. This not only empowers them to make decisions for themselves but also teaches them valuable problem-solving skills. Of course, the choices should be age-appropriate and within the boundaries of your expectations as a parent.

By allowing your child to have a say in certain matters, you demonstrate that you trust and respect them, which in turn reinforces your authority in a gentle manner.

5. Leading by Example:

Perhaps the most powerful way to balance gentleness and authority is by leading by example. Children are incredibly perceptive and often mimic the behaviors they see in adults. Therefore, it's essential to model the traits and values you want to instill in your child.

Whether it's practicing patience, showing empathy towards others, or handling conflicts peacefully, your actions speak volumes.

By embodying the principles of gentle parenting in your own behavior, you not only reinforce your authority but also inspire your child to follow suit.

Gentle parenting is not synonymous with permissiveness or a lack of authority. By incorporating these five practical strategies into your parenting approach, you can cultivate a nurturing and respectful relationship with your child while still maintaining your sense of authority.

Remember, it's not about being a dictator or a pushover—it's about finding that delicate balance between empathy and discipline that ultimately fosters a loving and harmonious parent-child bond.

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