Gentle parenting

It’s a Monday morning and I must prepare my two kids, a six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter for school and day care. If ever I measure them on a compliance scale, they both would probably fall on the opposite spectrum of each other. There is no shortage of parenting styles and as a mother and speech pathologist, I am often excited to read about different styles and one such style that piqued my interest as well as helped deal power struggle with my daughter was ‘Gentle Parenting’.

What is Gentle Parenting?

Gentle parenting essentially centers on acknowledging a child’s feelings and the motivations behind challenging behavior, as opposed to correcting the behavior itself. Gentle parenting is everything that include “respectful parenting,” “mindful parenting,” and “intentional parenting.” Encouraging a partnership between the parent and child is the goal of this approach. The gentle parent holds firm boundaries, gives a child choices instead of orders, and eschews rewards, punishments, and threats—no sticker charts, no time-outs, no “I will turn this car around right now.” Instead of issuing commands (“Put on your shoes!”), the parent strives to understand why a child is acting out in the first place (“What’s up, honey? You don’t want to put your shoes on?”) or, perhaps, narrates the problem (“You’re playing with your trains because putting on shoes doesn’t feel good”). Arbitrary anger and commands are discouraged, such as repeatedly justifying demands with “because I told you so.” In their place, gentle parents send messages that not only set boundaries but leave a long-term impact. Children are told that they have a partner in their parent that will keep them safe and are encouraged to learn from the situation.

In this case, a parent establishing expectations for a day at the park might say “we are going to stay safe by playing in this area where we can both see one another. We can check if we are too far by waving at each other and making sure the other person waves back.” The gently parented child, the theory goes, learns to recognize, and control her emotions because a caregiver is consistently affirming those emotions as real and important. The parent provides a model for keeping one’s cool, but no overt incentives for doing so—the kid becomes a person who is self-regulating, kind, and conscientious because she wants to be, not because it will result in ice cream. Sarah Ockwell-Smith, parenting expert and author of The Gentle Parenting Book, sums up gentle parenting in three words: empathy, understanding, and respect.

Key Principles of Gentle Parenting

1. Empathy and understanding: Gentle parents aim to understand their child’s perspective, emotions, and needs, rather than simply imposing their own will on them. This involves active listening, validating their feelings, and responding with compassion and understanding.
2. Respectful communication: Gentle parents strive to communicate with their child in a way that is respectful, clear, and age-appropriate. They avoid using harsh or punitive language and focus on problem-solving and finding mutually acceptable solutions.
3. Positive discipline: Gentle parenting rejects the use of physical punishment or coercion, instead emphasizing positive discipline strategies such as redirection, natural consequences, and positive reinforcement.
4. Nurturing connection: Gentle parenting recognizes the importance of building a strong, nurturing relationship between parent and child. This involves spending quality time together, prioritizing play and fun, and creating a warm and supportive home environment.

Benefits of gentle parenting for speech therapy

Gentle parenting can have numerous benefits for children, including those with speech and language difficulties. Here are some of the ways in which gentle parenting can support speech therapy:
1. Emotional regulation: Gentle parenting helps children develop strong emotional regulation skills by providing them with a safe and supportive environment in which to express and process their emotions. This can be particularly helpful for children with speech and language difficulties who may struggle to communicate their feelings verbally.
2. Language development: Gentle parenting prioritizes communication and encourages children to express themselves freely and without fear of judgment. This can help support language development by providing children with opportunities to practice their speaking and listening skills in a safe and supportive environment.
3. Self-esteem: Gentle parenting focuses on building a strong, positive relationship between parent and child, which can help boost a child’s self-esteem and confidence. This can be particularly important for children with speech and language difficulties who may struggle with self-esteem due to their communication challenges.
4. Creativity and problem-solving: Gentle parenting emphasize problem-solving and encourages children to think creatively and independently. This can help support speech therapy by fostering a child’s ability to think critically and come up with creative solutions to communication challenges.