Gentle Parenting Trend: What Do Psychologists Say?

Every parent has a different approach about how to interact with and guide their children. In addition to the main four approaches to parenting, there is a new trend gaining popularity of TikTok: The gentle parenting style. This article takes a closer look at what gentle parenting means, how it compares with other styles, and what health experts are saying about it.

Key takeaways:

How parenting style shapes a child’s future

The parenting style has a significant impact on the child’s behavior and actions later on in life. The child’s self-esteem, ability to integrate into society, and adopt healthy habits are all influenced by the parenting approach. As the child grows older, other factors like their environment, job, and social circle shape her life.

There are four well-established parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. The newly-described gentle parenting style shares some similarities with the permissive style, but is not the same. Understanding these styles can help parents decide which style is best suited for their children and themselves.

The main types of parenting

  1. Authoritarian parenting. The parent chooses a one-way communication with the child and sets up clear rules that the child must obey. The rules are typically not explained. If the child makes a mistake, he or she is punished. Authoritarian parents have high expectations, limited flexibility, and offer less nurturing compared with other parents. The child tends to be well-behaved, follow instructions, but may have low self-esteem and be unable to make their own decisions. Some children become aggressive and rebellious.
  2. Authoritative parenting. Researchers believe this style promotes the healthiest outcomes for children. The parents offer a nurturing relationship with the child, set up expectations, and there is two-way communication. Disciplinary actions aim to support, not punish, the child. Children are more likely to be confident, and independent, perform well in school, be responsible, and be able to self-regulate. Self-regulation is defined as the ability to manage emotions and behavior in accordance with the demands of the situation.
  3. Permissive parenting. The parents are warm and nurturing, acting more like friends than parents. They have little expectations from the child and rarely use discipline. As a result, children may grow and develop unhealthy habits, from excessive snacking to spending too much time on the computer. These children have some self-esteem however, some may become demanding, selfish, or lack self-regulation.
  4. Uninvolved parenting. Parents take care of the basic needs of the child, but offer a lot of freedom to the child, do not take disciplinary actions, and remain detached from the child’s life. The child learns to be self-sufficient but may have issues controlling their emotions, knowing how to cope with challenges, or maintaining healthy relationships.

When did gentle parenting begin and how does it work?

Sarah Ockwell-Smith is regarded as the founder of the gentle parenting movement. Her book “The Gentle Parenting Book” was published in 2016 and this trend gained more popularity in recent years. Elements of gentle parenting were described back in the 1920s by Dr. Alfred Adler and later on by other doctors and psychologists.

The goal of this parenting style is to raise children who are confident, independent, and happy. This approach focuses on empathy, respect, understanding, and healthy boundaries. Unlike some traditional styles that involve punishment and reward, the gentle style supports the child’s self-awareness and parents act like a coach.

Let’s consider the following scenario. A parent must drop off the child at school and leave for work, but the child is not ready or may even throw a temper tantrum. An authoritarian parent may raise the voice and instruct the child to go to the car as soon as possible. A permissive parent allows these delays to turn into a pattern, without taking any action. A parent using the gentle approach stays calm but firm, tells the child that he or she needs to go to school, and is expected to be ready on time. The parent explains how leaving late would affect both of them. As a result, the child may lose some privileges. The child has the opportunity to evaluate his or her behavior. Unlike permissive parenting, the gentle parenting style does not lack discipline. The parents set healthy boundaries and expectations for the child, while also trying to understand the child’s feelings.

What do psychologists say about gentle parenting?

Is gentle parenting really effective? According to some research, this parenting style may help reduce anxiety in children.

Pediatricians and child psychologists believe that this approach has a positive impact on the child and is one of the most beneficial strategies a parent could adopt. This style may lead to improved mental and emotional health and support healthy relationships. The parent and child work together, and the child is encouraged to express his or her feelings, in a socially accepted and age-appropriate way.

Parents often wonder what would be the healthiest parenting style. Among the four main parenting styles, the authoritative is believed to be the best. Gentle parenting also appears to be a good choice, based on the current evidence. However, gentle parenting may not work for everyone. This approach could be challenging as the parents have to review their own thinking, how to handle conflicts, and set healthy boundaries. This style is also time-consuming, and requires a lot of patience because the child needs to learn self-awareness, and how to process emotions and behavior.

Parents can ask a child psychologist or a pediatrician for advice on what would be the best parenting style to raise their children.

Tips for adopting gentle parenting

  1. Planning. Stay calm, positive and praise healthy behavior. Plan in advance how to react to a negative behavior, so it will be easier to respond to challenges.
  2. Consistency. The child should go to bed, have dinner, play games or watch TV at specific times. The child is more likely to respect and understand the rules if they have a routine.
  3. Teamwork. Work together, as a family and team. Swap commands for an invitation to talk. Encourage communication, allowing the child to express feelings.

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