Some non gentle parents have comments to make about the way gentle parenting will impact upon your children. Here is a debate about some common misconceptions about the effects of raising a child using gentle parenting techniques. It can be a challenge to ignore those comments when your own subsconscious brain may be selling you that ‘maybe they’re right’. This is especially the case if you were raised with non-gentle parenting styles yourself. This blog post aims to help you to ignore those comments and remember the true benefits of gentle parenting.
Myth 1: You’ll Raise Them Without Respect
Many authoritarian parents believe to raise a child with respect, you need to force them to obey your requests. If you put this into context of your own life, it helps see that this is simply not true. If you are forced to do something, what does it make you feel? Would you rather do something else? If not supervised by the person making the request, do you discretely do the thing you shouldn’t be? Do you feel frustration, anger, resentment and feelings of depression for being forced to do something against your will?
Using a case study may help. How has the impact of COVID lockdown affected you? How many of you followed the lockdown recommendations exactly? Or did you subtly allow your parents to pop round and help with your baby… Did you feel depressed and annoyed that you had to stay in? Did you wonder whether it was a big scam? When forced to do things, even if we’re given the reasons for the requirement, but especially if we’re not, we can feel depression and anger.
Compare this to being included in a decision. To being asked what you would like to do to help a situation. If for example your parents were high risk due to their medical health or age, and there was no lockdown but COVID cases were rampant. You’d be considering ways you could protect your parents. You may well voluntarily decide to keep your distance to potentially save their lives anyway. This is a choice but it becomes a respectful decision, made with all the facts at hand and care for others. You find other fun ways to interact, for example through Skype. One of my friend’s stands outside her grandmother’s window on the telephone so they can see and hear each other safely.
The last approach is more aligned with the gentle parenting style. It allows facts to be stated e.g. “I need to keep you safe on the road as cars may not see you.” It then offers choices in how to ensure that safety. For example “do you want to hold my hand or for me to carry you.” This allows the child to feel empowered as well as understand the reasons for the choices being offered. As the years go by, the children will grow up with a positive attitude to life, having mostly been responding with what they need. This is maximising the “yes brain” which has many others positive effects on their mental wellbeing in the years to come. You can read Daniel Siegel’s book by following the link below. You may also want to read my blog post about the power of words on this link.
Myth 2: You’re Rewarding Bad Behaviour
When a mother holds her child in her loving arms to explain that we don’t hit another person, is this a reward? Many onlookers to the scenario will tell you it is. If you try connecting to your child before explaining what you need, you’ll soon see for yourself it is not a reward. It in fact helps the child feel empathised with and respected, whilst maintaining the boundary respectfully.
Rewarding bad behaviour would be along the lines of the following example. Your child starts screaming at night. You want your other child to stay asleep so rather than talking with your screaming child about being respectful of other’s needs, you resort to putting on the TV. If someone said to you that if you stop doing XYZ they’d put on the TV, would that tempt you to stop? If they asked you to stop doing something and offered a hug, would that make you stop? I’d say most people would opt for the TV over a hug – because a hug is not a reward but a means to connecting.
Myth 3: They’ll Never Be Independent
To grow as an independent being, you need to feel secure, confident, have self esteem and not feel scared of failure. If you’re raised with gentle parenting techniques, you should have many of these traits and naturally independence will happen when the time is right for them. Gentle parenting respects when a child is ready for independence, allowing them to have their own room if they ask. If you try to force independence, it can create panic and anxiety in your child, having the the opposite effect than you wanted. Also if you tried to keep them in the same bed as you when they’ve expressed a desire to have their own room can create co-dependence. They may feel you need them there more than their need to be apart.
Myth 4: You’re Creating A Rod For Your Own Back
This view has some weight in the first years of your child’s life, so it can fool you to questioning whether gentle parenting is the right thing. For example, it may be true that breastfeeding on demand will increase the frequency of night feeds. If you stopped breastfeeding and opted for cry it out methods of parenting, you may find they sleep sooner. In the long run though, the breastfed baby feels confident that you’re there for them so they can relax easier during the night. The baby who cried it out may lay awake tossing and turning with anxiety, feeling alone with their emotions and unable to ask for help. They may not disturb you personally, but their own sleep patterns are more heavily disturbed than the baby who knows they can ask for help.
Myth 5: They’ll Grow Up To Be Spoilt Brats
Even gently raised children can grow up being spoilt. The question is spoilt in what? If a spoilt brat is defined as a child who expects more love, then yes, why should I not want my children to expect love, respect, adoration? If it’s about expecting more money or gifts, then absolutely they may need to be shown that we cannot and should not expect gifts above anyone else. We can set the example by buying secondhand items to benefit charities or simply saying ‘no’ if the requests for things seem excessive. Explaining we can’t have another toy because we already have plenty at home is a good enough explanation. Allowing your children to wish for objects is fine, but encouraging them to appreciate what they already have is healthy too.
Myth 6: It’s Clearly Not Working When They’re ‘Behaving Like That’!
This statement is comparable to expecting a newborn to crawl becauser you put them on their belly for tummy time once or twice. Babies and toddlers are not born with the ability for impulse control, which only happens later in childhood when their brains develop. Consistency is key until then. Continuing to be gentle towards your children and explaining both of your needs respectfully will help them be gentle and considerate in the years to come too. Parenting gently helps a child learn empathy by kindly hearing their parents needs being explained. It also helps them grow to be assertive by hearing their needs being encouraged. This is by no means a quick fix though. It can take years of consistent, considerate parenting to see your children behaving in a similar manner. You are likely to see moments of kindness and empathy showing during interactions from quite an early age.
Myth 7: You Have No Backbone
This is the complete opposite from the truth. The reality is, setting down boundaries and sticking to them gives you a backbone. Shouting, screaming or smacking to enforce your boundary shows you lack self control. A mature response to a behaviour we don’t like is to gently enforce our boundaries through assertive words. Words are such an important part of gentle parenting, which can take a bit of getting used to. The results of holding a boundary whilst remaining calm and assertive will teach your children how to behave when people don’t do what they want. Toddler tantrums are a prime example of how we hope mature people won’t behave – screaming, yelling, hitting… So why should we expect our toddler not to behave in this way if we do? We can expect they will learn to behave gently if we set the example to them with self control. You may also want to read my blog post about the power of words on this link and my blog post about gentle discipline here.
Myth 8: You’re Raising Them To Be A Wet Lettuce
Being a walkover can also be described as someone who is not assertive. You can expect showing assertiveness to your children will naturally help them be assertive themselves as they grow. Just because you’re not being angry to enforce a boundary, does not mean they will not be assertive. Assertiveness is not the same thing as aggressiveness. Expressing their feelings for them until they know how helps them be able to be assertive about their feelings in the future. You are guiding them in how to communicate rather than forcing them to do as you say.
Myth 9: They’ll Still Be In Your Bed / Breastfeeding / Being Held at 60 Years Old
Nature intends for our children to eventually wean and get themselves to sleep, when the time is right. Whilst there may be ways we can gently bring this timescale forward, if it feels right for you to breastfeed or cosleep then treasure it, because it is unlikely to continue forever. Children learn to walk, run, talk in their own time, so you can be confident they will learn to rely on other foods or sources of comfort in their own time too.
Myth 10: Shouting / Smacking Really Works! Can’t You See He / She Stopped in Their Tracks?!
There are absolutely some parenting techniques that force a child to stop an unwanted behaviour with almost immediate effect. To put it in an adult context, if your partner didn’t like how you were behaving and walked up to you and shouted or hit you… would you stop in your tracks too? I also suspect with repeated smacks or screaming episodes that you would be very cautious about your behaviour around that person. Deep down though, are you feeling love towards that person? Perhaps you feel fear and are wondering when you can escape. That may also be what your children start feeling. Their desire to run away may be at a subconscious level at a young age due to their reliance on you for food and survival. When they turn into adults, you may find you lose much connection with your children at all.
This myth can become even more strong when you welcome a new baby to the family. You can question “but does the needs of my baby not to be hit matter less than the need of my toddler?”. This question is very valid. Your baby may be being hit or harmed by an older sibling and you feel an urge to stop the behaviour quickly. The problem is, forcing them to stop without connecting and acknowleding the emotions at play, can seem like a quick solution that works. But does it work when you’re not supervising? When frustrated and no one is there to witness it, may the sibling still lash out in the way their impulses tell them to? Most likely yes. Instead, the best we can do is make it our aim to protect younger children where possible or console them when it wasn’t possible to protect them. With the older child, talking through their feelings and giving them healthier alternatives can really work effectively. See my previous blog post about gentle discipline.
Myths vs reality are issues facing all important topics in our society. It is hard to work out the truth and trust your gut instincts when you hear so many myths bouncing around. The aim of gentle parenting is for the longer term view of remaining their parent and in a relationship with them in 10, 20, 100 years time. Long after we have died, I hope my children continue to feel my love there even if I’m physically gone. This will more likely happen if I give them responsive love when they’re living with me.
Ultimately, these are your children, nobody else’s. If something you’ve read or heard makes you unsure if you’re doing the right thing, try to think through the scenario logicially. The best way to do this is like I’ve done above – imagine the behaviour was being done to you. If you’d respond well to it, then it’s likely to be a success. If you’d want to run away from the other person, then don’t try those techniques until you’ve fully researched them first.