The phrase is gaining popularity thanks to the rise of TikTok, but what exactly is this parenting method?
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Gentle parenting: It might be a term you’ve never heard of before, especially if you aren’t on TikTok.
Over the last two years, thousands of “gentle parenting” videos have garnered millions of views.
But what is “gentle parenting” actually? 13 is ON YOUR SIDE with the answer.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a parenting expert from England who has written several books about gentle parenting.
“I’ve been talking about or teaching gentle parenting for 17 years now and I would say for about 15 of those it was a very fringe movement…not many people had heard of it,” explained Ockwell-Smith.
A quick Google search shows she may actually been the one to coin the term—though she won’t take credit for it.
“A few people were using the same phrase. It doesn’t belong to me but I don’t think it belongs to anybody,” she said.
So what is gentle parenting?
“I talk about treating children with empathy, understanding and respect. It’s that simple,” Ockwell-Smith said. “If you want a more official answer, gentle parenting is just a style of parenting known as authoritative parenting.”
Where does it sit on the parenting spectrum?
On one side, you have authoritarian parenting, which is characterized by harsh discipline with the parents in the control.
On the other side, permissive parenting with very little discipline and the children in control.
“Gentle parenting is authoritative parenting, which sits nicely in the middle. So parents have control but they also give children control, they have a lot of compassion, it’s all about lots of discipline, lots of rules, lots of boundaries, but it’s all about teaching rather than punishing,” said Ockwell-Smith.
So what does it look like to practice gentle parenting?
“A lot of what we do happens in our own heads. So it’s maybe less about what you can observe if you watch a parent and child in public and more about the learning and the understanding that the parent has gone through by themselves,” said Ockwell-Smith. “Absolutely the main thing that all gentle parents do is they have a really good knowledge of child development and psychology. So they will know how their child’s brain is developing and they will know what they should expect from their child’s behavior and their capabilities neurologically at any age. So a lot of it is having realistic expectations…not expecting too much or too little of our children and making sure we communicate at that level.”
Another key: Learning to be calm as parents.
“If we are very stressed and we yell and shout, we are going to raise children who yell and shout. So most of the work is done on ourselves,” said Ockwell-Smith.
She also encourages what she calls in-the-moment discipline.
“We work on regulating our emotions so that we are calm and then we help our child to calm down and when they are calm we can have that discussion about why what they were doing is wrong, and we can teach them a better way.”
It does take time, but Ockwell-Smith says it’s so worth it.
“We collaboratively solve problems, we look for the reason the behavior is happening and we think about how can we solve it together,” she said.
Ockwell-Smith says while TikTok can be an OK introduction, it’s really important to dive deeper into educating yourself about gentle parenting than a 60-second video allows.
Ockwell-Smith has written several books about gentle parenting. Her top recommendation for readers in the U.S. is “Gentle Discipline.”
Watch the full interview with Ockwell-Smith below:
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