Gentle Parenting: Positive and Peaceful Connection with Children | Sage Family

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What is Gentle Parenting?

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What is Gentle Parenting?

Nov 18, 2020
Gentle parenting family laughing and cuddling on the sofa together.

Gentle Parenting is a parenting style that honors needs through the power of mindfulness, connection, and collaboration.

The gentle part means that we are pairing our evolution-based intuition with evidence-based practices to peacefully and consciously meet our children in partnership. Unlike the mainstream control-based approach to parenting, gentle parenting is positive, playful, empathetic, and respectful.

It is a sacred truth that the work we do on ourselves is the true work of gentle parenting. 

The parenting part describes a way of being in connection with children more than a way of acting upon them. 

The secret is that it’s actually about being in healthy connection with another human being—it’s not limited to children. Once you begin to embody this way of being, you will relate anew to yourself, your child, your partner, your friend, your neighbor . . .

What’s the difference between gentle parenting and attachment parenting?

Both gentle parenting and attachment parenting center connection. There is a core intention behind every interaction to deepen the bond and nurture the trust, because it is from within this secure foundation that children (and their blossoming independence) thrive.

They are different in that attachment parenting is a specific set of practices associated with the early years of parenting (you can read the 7 B’s of attachment parenting here) while gentle parenting is a general style that spans the full journey of parenthood. 

Attachment parenting would be considered an expression of gentle parenting. In other words, if you are attachment parenting, you are also a gentle parent. Most attachment parenting families do graduate into gentle parenting as they exit the breastfeeding and babywearing years—it’s a natural continuation and evolution of the attachment parenting values. But not all gentle parenting families were attachment parents.

Gentle parenting family with their arms playfully around each other on the deck.

How do gentle parents discipline?

The modern iteration of discipline on the mainstream parenting path is to attempt to manipulate and control children, by leveraging the parent’s power and privilege as an adult, through tactics like rewards, punishments, yelling, and time-out, in service of an unconscious and arbitrary agenda.

On the gentle parenting path, we work in service of the long-term qualities we hope to foster. We ask ourselves, “What’s the unmet need beneath this behavior and how can I help?” We connect and then collaborate with our kids in hard moments. We rely on natural consequences whenever possible and logical consequences when necessary.

Mainstream Parenting: “I said put on your coat! If it’s not on by the time I count to 3, you will lose your iPad for the rest of the day.”

Gentle Parenting: “If you don’t wear your coat outside, you might feel very cold, but it’s your body and your choice.”

Mainstream Parenting: “Stop crying right this minute or you’re going to time out!”

Gentle Parenting: “You’re so disappointed that the red cup you wanted is dirty. Tell me all about it. Do you have any ideas about how you could get that drink you wanted?” 

Gentle parenting family cuddling and reading aloud on a big family bed for cosleeping.

Is gentle parenting permissive parenting?

Gentle parenting is not permissive parenting. 

We don’t enforce arbitrary boundaries but we do hold meaningful and essential boundaries that keep us in alignment with our values and agreements. For my family, that means (1) respect yourself (2) respect others (3) respect the environment. So long as you are in alignment with those 3 agreements, our default is freedom and we find the yes.

Since we don’t enforce any hollow rules or futile expectations, our children trust that when we do hold a boundary, there is a very good reason for it and they are willing to partner with us to find a better way forward. They aren’t trying to avoid punishment, they are trying to be good people. 

Permissive Parenting: “Oh, you’re really hitting your brother today.”

Gentle Parenting: “I can’t let you hurt your brother’s body so I’m going to bring you over here to keep everyone safe. You felt angry when your block tower was knocked over. Do you have any ideas about where you could play with blocks where they won’t get knocked over so easily? And if your brother does come close, what could you say to let me know that you need my help?” 

Is it possible to parent gently if I wasn’t raised this way?

There are some wonderful gentle parents out there carrying on a legacy of gentle parenting and I find that tremendously inspiring, though that’s not my story. Most of us doing this work are reparenting and healing ourselves along the way because our needs for safety, dignity, and acceptance were not met in childhood. A painful upbringing does not disqualify you from gentle parenting—it makes the journey more powerful. 

Boy playfully falling backwards into his gentle parenting father's arms.

Are gentle parents perfect all the time?

Gentle parenting is not a destination, it is a practice.

None of us are perfect—not even me. I am not a failure as a gentle mother if I stumble along the way and lose my cool or respond in a way that I would now handle differently with the benefit of hindsight. Those are the experiences that I have needed to grow—I learn from them.

Perfection is not the goal but it’s also not even ideal. Our children need to see us be fully human and fall down, get back up, repair the harm, learn, and respond better next time.

But we are always conscious of the fact that that work we are doing on evolving and growing and actualizing ourselves is the big work of gentle parenting and we are always aware of the role modeling that is happening when we do stumble.

How can I convince my partner to parent gently?

One of the important lessons we learn through gentle parenting is that we cannot control another human being: not our children and not our partners. So you can’t convince them. Instead, focus on what you can control—yourself—and know that we are powerfully affected by the people we love. Listen to episode 37 of the Sage Family Podcast all about Peaceful Partnership to learn more.

Gentle parenting mother smiling on a deck at sunset.

What’s a gentle parenting tip I can use to get started?

Pause.

When we are triggered, our amygdala (the fight or flight center of the brain) takes over and we find ourselves speaking and behaving in all kinds of unintentional ways. This default, automatic setting is the parenting approach for so many. But not for you. Not anymore. 

The journey begins with something as simple and as difficult as a pause before responding. What thoughts are flashing through your mind? What emotion is swelling in your heart? What are you feeling in your body? No judgment, no shame, just noticing the wave as it moves through. And then once it has moved through you, that is when you respond, when your prefrontal cortex is once again engaged and you can access your highest self and truest intentions. 

Gentle parenting is a holistic and nurturing approach to parenting that, with a little bravery, can transform you into the best version of yourself while fostering the best version of your children and the relationship you share. It is a way of being that creates a palpable atmosphere and family culture of peace. 

Start by reading the Sage Parenting book, which will give you the foundation and tools you need to bring this philosophy to life. If you yearn for the personalized support that Sage Coaching can offer, then enroll here and I can lead you by the hand through the weeds and onto the gentle parenting path. 

Your child deserves. You are worth it. And the world needs it. 

Want to learn more about gentle parenting?

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