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Gentle parenting?

Expert explains the trend (and shares what really works).

Article Author: Katie McPherson

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Love it or hate it, anyone who has heard the term “gentle parenting” has an opinion. So, what exactly is this trend about, and does it really work? Turns out, it can be hard to pin down what gentle parenting is and whether it can really stop your child’s tantrums.

Sarah Robinson, PhD, licensed psychologist and board-certified behavior analyst at Baptist Behavioral Health and Wolfson Children’s Behavioral Health, broke down the latest parenting movement.

It’s hard to put a finger on.

In general, gentle parenting seems to toss out the ideas of punishment and reward. Instead, parents try to teach their children how to handle their feelings appropriately, understand their own behavior and respect boundaries. For example, Parents.com describes a scenario every parent will face someday – your kid’s having a blast, but it’s time to leave the park.

Rather than telling your child it’s time to leave and leveling a punishment of some kind when they resist, gentle parenting might suggest you tell them ahead of time how you expect them to act when it’s time to head home. Consider giving them a 5- and 3-minute warning, and if they still get upset, acknowledge that it’s hard to leave a place where you’re having fun, but it’s still time to go. No punishments given; lots of discussion and cooperation. Sounds great, right?

Dr. Robinson said the challenge with gentle parenting is that there’s no consensus about what it is, or which parenting techniques qualify as “gentle.”

“There are all these different things out there on social media. Gentle parenting is not something there’s research or literature on. It seems to be a mish-mash of things, and if you read multiple sources, they’re not even describing the same thing,” she said.

It’s trending online.

Parenting doesn’t have a huge body of research behind it, and gentle parenting is so new, there’s no data to support or disprove its methods. Dr. Robinson did say there are styles of parenting known to be effective.

“Some parents are what’s called authoritarian, with high expectations and low involvement, which we’ve found is not very healthy for kids. On the other extreme are what’s called permissive parents, with high responsiveness and low expectations,” Dr. Robinson said. “The middle road is authoritative parenting, where there are high expectations and clear rules, natural consequences for inappropriate behavior, but also high responsiveness and engagement with that child.”

It might make you second-guess yourself.

While learning how others parent can help you learn new ways of handling hard situations, subscribing to one style of parenting can lead you to ignore your intuition.

“I think parents don’t trust themselves enough, and they think they have to do it one way. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to parenting,” Dr. Robinson said. “Follow your gut and do what feels right for you and your children.”

Before you buy in…

Sixty-second videos on social media can show a trendy parenting technique working, but Dr. Robinson encouraged parents to pause before hopping on board.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is there actually any research backing this?’ Also, trust your own instincts about your kids and your parenting. What works best for your child? What do you want to take from the things you read without necessarily having to do everything it says? Take what seems like a good idea, but don’t feel like you have to do things one way or another because it’s the latest trend people are talking about,” she said.


If you're looking for ways to understand and discuss your child's behavior, check out Wolfson Children's On Our Sleeves for free resources to start important conversations with the kids and teens in your life.

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