While there are parents who still believe in corporal punishment in this day and age, surveys have shown that the prevalence of moms and dads spanking children as a form of discipline has decreased by 15 percent since 1993. As more tools become available for parents to help them better handle the behavioral shifts exhibited by their kids, people are depending less on an old-fashioned “whoopin” and more on better communication. For Millennial parents, who made “gentle parenting” a hot topic on Twitter in January, it’s a necessary change. “Gentle parenting is breaking generational curses,” said Twitter user @_ItsMissBre in a popular tweet. “Two generations from now I want my family to be so far removed from spanking that it seems absolutely barbaric.”
The hope is that some of the lack of compassion and the inability to be understood that many young people say they experienced growing up can be offered to their own children through gentle parenting. But what is it exactly and why are Millennials seeing it as the way to go in parenthood?
“Gentle Parenting is a balanced and mindful approach to parenting where parents are reflective and treat their children and themselves with empathy, understanding and respect,” says Petal Modeste, founder and host of the Parenting for the Future Podcast. She says that gentle parents set boundaries and limits but at the same time give children control that is appropriate to their age and maturity.
“Gentle parents are also students of their children,” she adds. “They spend time with their children, learn their unique gifts and character traits and are intentional about honoring that uniqueness. Gentle parents understand that children communicate through behavior and they strive to consistently respond to behaviors in a manner that assures the child they are loved, valued and respected.”
With the name alone, gentle parenting sounds like it has great benefits for kids, but it is also immensely beneficial for parents too in regards to the introspection necessary.
“As a parent, gentle parenting allows you to be more self-aware and question why you have reacted the way you have in situations, whether your child’s behavior has triggered you, and if so, how to rectify the situation,” says Shanice Tomlinson, co-founder (alongside Brenda Kola) of the UK-based online community Orbit for moms. “It is a style of parenting that in a sense forces you to be a lot more in tune with your emotions and reactions, and how to navigate them.”
She says children are given the space to express and feel their emotions without fear of punishment, which allows them to be emotionally intelligent. “The biggest benefit for parent and child is a trusting, secure, responsive relationship,” she adds. “No emotion is too big or too difficult for us to handle and navigate in a healthy way together.”
It’s basically giving your child the space to be heard. And while some might think that if you’ve been a parent for a long time your style can’t change, that’s not true. It’s never too late to be more compassionate towards your kids. You can adopt a gentler way of parenting at any time. It doesn’t happen overnight, though.
“I would start by parenting your inner child,” Tomlinson says. “What did you need as a child that you weren’t given? I often ask, if you came home from work and had a really tough day and told someone about it, you wouldn’t expect them to give you a time out or shout at you because of how your bad day is now affecting them. You’ll be looking for compassion, a listening ear. Begin by seeing your children for what they are, human. They have feelings and don’t know how to manage such huge emotions like disappointment, hurt, immense joy, etc; it’s our job as parents to let them know that all feelings are ok, but there are ways in which we deal with them.”
For further insight into how to adopt gentle parenting, Modeste offers the following tips:
Caring for yourself to model gentleness
“You cannot be fully present, empathetic and understanding if you are not well rested, well fed or consumed with stress. Building in time for self-care and even sharing with your child why it is important – “going to bed early tonight will help me be ready for a fun day of apple picking with you tomorrow” – will help you succeed at gentle parenting.
Inviting instead of commanding
Avoid dictating or demanding that your child does something. For example: “Would you like to practice your piece now so we are ready for the recital?” vs. “Go practice now!”
Loving the actor even if you dislike their act
When your child does something she should not, in correcting her, separate the action from who she is. For example: “I don’t think your friend liked it when you grabbed that toy – let’s try another way to share” vs. “I think you are being mean to your friend.”
Learn about gentle parenting
Pick up The Gentle Parenting Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, which is considered the definitive guide on the 7 Cs of this parenting style.
Practice for 8
Eight weeks of consistently using gentle parenting techniques is considered by experts to be a good time frame within which to see lasting results.