There aren’t many topics that seem to ruffle feathers like the “Gentle Parenting” debate. And honestly, it makes so much sense. At some point the term Gentle Parenting came to be associated with permissive parenting, lack of boundaries, and parents who seemingly never get upset or raise their voice above 50 decibels. And while I didn’t coin the phrase, and I’m not too interested in defending the beast that gentle parenting has become, I will fiercely defend the parenting approach that I think it was trying to be.
We love labels and categories, a quick google search on parenting approaches will turn up phrases like: gentle parenting, attachment parenting, connected parenting, permissive parenting, traditional parenting, conscious parenting, etc. But you don’t have to pay attention to any of that. If there is one thing I believe all parents need to understand, it’s that the best outcomes for our children depend on parenting in a way that builds a secure attachment between them (kids) and us (parents). And good luck trying to rebrand attachment theory, it’s grounded in decades of research. Its purpose and good name is here to stay!
In my transformational parenting program The Empowered Parent: 90 Days to Parenting with Confidence, Pride, and Success, I lead parents to build this securely attached relationship with their children. And while my clients tackle aspects of parenting both deep and wide reaching, there is some myth busting that almost always takes place. So let’s set the record straight on three arguments I come across a lot.
They’ll never be ready for the “real world” - which isn’t gentle at all.
Yep! The world isn’t gentle. And guess what! Our kids are already living in that world. They experience pain, confusion, and heartache just as we do. They endure the death of family members, friends move away, they attend a new school, they encounter mistreatment, they witness images of violence. And they do all of this before they have a fully developed brain that could make better sense of it all. The world is tough, and we don’t need to be a source of that toughness. Instead, we provide security and safety. This is how our children grow to have resilience when they face hardships. The resilience is a result of having a safe and secure base in us to come home to.
You can’t just let kids do whatever they want.
I don’t know that anyone who understands attachment theory would advocate for letting kids do whatever they want - children need boundaries. I do however know that when parents move away from a mindset of needing to control their children and hold power over them, they see more cooperation and mutual respect. Think of your parenting as a set of guardrails along a path. If the guardrails are very narrow, our kids will constantly bump into them, causing friction and frustration for all of us. If the guardrails are too far apart or not present at all, our kids lack safety and reliable ways to learn from our leadership and presence. But when the guardrails are just right, we allow our children to explore, learn from mistakes with natural consequences, and provide the safety and leadership of thoughtful boundaries.
Sometimes kids just manipulate for attention.
This one may be half true! While I don’t think children misbehave to manipulate, I do think that a need for connection (i.e. attention) can show up with undesirable behavior. In her book Beyond Behaviors, Dr. Mona Delahooke explains that all behavior is communication. If we are able to shift from a behaviorist mindset that solely looks at behavior as something to be rewarded or punished, we are then free to examine beneath the surface and uncover the underlying cause of a child’s behavior. Often, our examination will reveal a child’s unmet need or an underdeveloped skill. At the simplest level, a newborn doesn’t cry to manipulate us. A newborn cries to get a need met - for example the need to be fed. And an infant hasn’t yet developed the skills (i.e. brain development) to ask for food with words or sign language. A key piece to the 90 day Empowered Parent Accelerator program is growing in knowledge of our child’s brain development. Understanding this development can make all the difference in how we respond to behavior - and probably most importantly the story we tell ourselves (and our children) about who our children are at their core.