What exactly is Gentle Parenting? Our last webinar explored all of the basic concepts of this parenting approach with the help of the expert Devon Kuntzman. Here is everything that you need to know about the topic!
In addition to being one of the moment’s most trending topics, Gentle Parenting could not be more current and relevant as well. However, as with any hot theme, Gentle Parenting has been the target of a lot of misconceptions and confusion. Take a dive into some of the highlights from our last webinar on the topic, where we had a wonderful and clarifying conversation with Devon Kuntzman.
1. Gentle Parenting, the definition
You have heard about it, you have read about it, but what exactly is Gentle Parenting? As explained by Devon, Gentle Parenting is interrelated with four basic pillars: partnership with the child, respect for the child as a human being, empathy for the child’s needs and developmental level, and setting boundaries as a parent.
Being in charge vs. Being in control
“So the goal isn’t to be in control, the goal is to be in charge”, states the expert. Although we like to believe we can control another human being, especially when it comes to a child, that is not the case. “Really we can’t control a child, we can influence them on a positive or a negative way”. The toddler specialist later clarifies what an ideal Gentle Parenting scenario looks like: a parent feeling in charge and empowered in their parenting role, without the need or desire to control their child.
Needs vs. Boundaries
Devon also talked about how important it is to try to meet the child’s specific needs whether in a social, emotional or even basic context. “With Gentle Parenting, we really are looking at parenting the whole child, with their social, cognitive, physical (…) all aspects of the child”. However, those same needs should not be constantly prioritized over the parent’s boundaries. “If our boundaries are constantly crossed then we are going to get triggered and upset”. Therefore, while maintaining realistic expectations for behavior based on a child’s developmental level, it is crucial to find out how can we meet the child’s needs within the pre-set boundaries.
Expectations vs. Reality
Lastly, Devon explained how it is important to adapt our expectations according to the child’s developmental levels. “For example, toddlers (ages 1 to 4) are wired to experiment and explore. This means that they have a lack of impulse control and a lack of ability for emotional regulation skills”. In fact, the part of the brain that is responsible for this sense of control does not even start to mature until almost four years old. “So if we are punishing young children for having tantrums or maybe grabbing something off the shelf at the checkout at a store (…) we are really missing what is happening here, because a lot of the behaviors we get upset about (…) that we want to punish, are actually developmentally appropriate”, states the specialist.
2. Gentle Parenting, the misconceptions
Gentle Parenting vs. Permissive Parenting
As previously stated, Gentle Parenting is the source of a great deal of confusion. Loved by some, hated by others, Gentle Parenting is most of the times just badly understood. And the biggest misconceptions is perhaps, the automatic connections of this parenting style with being permissive. “It is this assumption that there is no discipline, no rules, and that the kids are in control, calling the shots. (…) Gentle Parenting is not Permissive Parenting”, explains Devon when asked about the main misunderstanding on the theme. “Gentle Parenting is built on partnership and connection, but also limits and boundaries. You have to have both sides to balance the scale. (…) a partnership does not mean equal, just means that you are working together”.
Punishing vs. Teaching
To create those limits and boundaries in a healthy way, Devon clarifies how it is important to shift our definition of discipline from a conventional and outdated source, to the true meaning of the word. “The true definition of discipline is rooted in Latin, in the word disciple, which means to learn or to teach”. As it happens, when we focus on the traditional sense of discipline, often connected with punishment, we are linking the child’s behavior to external compliance and control. Yet, that approach is extremely flawed because, news flash, we are not always going to be there. “Discipline is really teaching a child how to cultivate the skills for self-control (…) if we are teaching kids the skills they need for self-control, a child’s behavior becomes more intrinsically motivated”.
3. Gentle Parenting, the implementation
The Mental Shift
When asked about any possible downsides to adopting gentle parenting, Devon states that rather than downsides that are challenges. “Especially for parents who are still operating from a conventional parenting mindset (…) if they haven’t redefined what discipline means and they haven’t shifted their mindset about their child’s behavior”, says Devon. The expert explains how to implement Gentle Parenting into our everyday life, we first need to disconnect from the binary lens of bad and good behavior. Behavior is nothing more than a tool that the child has for communicating something - what children are communicating is below the surface while on the surface is the behavior itself. “If we haven’t made that mind shift, we are going to end up feeling very frustrated with Gentle Parenting because we execute one tool or strategy and there are no immediate results. (…) But to know that something is working, it does not mean compliance, it means taking care of your child’s and your own needs”.
Being a newbie
At the end of the day, learning how to implement Gentle Parenting is no different from learning any other skill. Consequently, we need to be ready and open to learn, support and, above all, make mistakes. “It (Gentle Parenting) requires learning about your child’s development, learning new tools and skills, (…) it requires being like a newbie, (…) and being ok with not being perfect, being ok with learning alongside your child.”. As Devon beautifully puts it, as with any other skill also Gentle Parenting takes time and practice.
Devon Kuntzman is a toddler expert and the founder of Transforming Toddlerhood, a company that focuses on helping parents better navigate the toddler years. Check out Devon’s daily content on Instagram: @transformingtoodlerhood.