Gentle parenting is a popular parenting ideology, focusing on empathy and respect and doing away with punishment and yelling. What we’ve learned from our mom friends and social media, though, is two things—gentle parenting can mean different things to different people, and it can be very hard to implement when a toddler is trying your patience (which, depending on your toddler, could be quite frequently…). We spoke to Dr. Mona Delahooke, author of Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behaviors and start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology before becoming a mom herself, and has spent her career creating new ideas building on the concepts around gentle parenting.
What is gentle parenting?
Gentle parenting is another name for the more positive approaches to parenting that have emerged over the years as an alternative to traditional, more punishment/consequences forms of parenting that were predominant before the field of positive psychology came online. It hasn’t been well defined yet.
Can you give an example of a gentle approach to a common parenting problem or two versus a traditional parent approach?
A child doesn’t want to leave the park to go home. Traditional: “If you don’t come now, there will be no videos (or dessert or whatever) tonight”. Gentle: “I can see it’s hard to leave, it’s so fun to play with your friends. We need to go now, but perhaps we can come back tomorrow.” You maintain boundaries but you also resonate with the feelings beneath the behaviors. I think of behaviors as valuable information, as the tip of the iceberg. When we go below the waterline (the obvious) we can address the body’s reactions which are often thought of as misbehaviors, but they are really stress behaviors.
Why is gentle parenting a preferred parenting tool over traditional versions?
When parenting is responsive, when it flexes to the underlying needs of the child it builds resilience and the child’s future self-regulation. This all depends on the definition, but I think a better term for the most up to date and research based way to support resilience in our children in responsive parenting. It certainly has components of gentleness, but also firmness when that’s what the child needs. I think gentle parenting is quite misunderstood, actually.
What are common misconceptions of gentle parenting?
That it means we should coddle children and let them do what they want. It doesn’t mean we coddle or are permissive. It means that we take into consideration the child’s emotions and growing sense of self. We believe in them, and we don’t assume that they are always (only) testing limits. They’re not. In my mind, it’s a misleading name and I don’t really identify with it.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Not sure if you saw it but the New Yorker article about Gentle Parenting is a perfect example of how it’s not well understood or defined! and I’m not sure that would describe my approach. My approach Brain-Body Parenting (holistic, understanding the whole child), which is Responsive Parenting (not formulaic, but customized to the child/parent in real time).
I tried to define what the best kind of parenting is for raising resilient kids in my book Brain-Body Parenting. The literature and research is so rich, yet modern parenting myths abound!
For more from Dr. Delahooke, go to www.monadelahooke.com