You Can Be Kind Without Being Complacent – An Exploration Of Gentle Parenting
Gentle parenting is a new method of raising children while ‘breaking the cycle’ of generational trauma. Sarah Ockwell-Smith, mother of four and supposed founder of the gentle parent movement acknowledges the definition as “three words: understanding, empathy, respect”.
The movement has been elevated through TikTok content creators, such as LauraLove5514 who shares footage of her children Carter and Jonah, and shared her reaction to when her “four-year-old accidentally cracked the screen on my iPad … as soon as it happened he came and told me everything right away. Of course, I was immediately triggered and I was angry I knew that anything that was gonna come out of my mouth was going to be out of anger so I stepped aside and told my son that I needed to calm my body down … my iPad isn’t worth risking my relationship with my child because I was angry about it. So after I calmed down we had a conversation about how it made each of us feel and he was extremely apologetic.” In the comments of this video, she clarifies why she had such a strong emotional reaction to her iPad being broken, saying “this was triggering for me because as a kid, I never had nice things, and if I did it was always used as leverage for punishment & anything nice that I ever had was usually destroyed or confiscated. So this kind of brought me back to that.”
Regardless, Lauralove5514’s son feeling that he could own up to breaking her iPad demonstrates he is not afraid of communicating when he has done something wrong. In the caption of another video, about honesty, she clarifies “I truly believe that kids lie, simply out of fear of punishment. My kids feel safe to tell me the truth because they know the consequence is consistent and fair. It wasn’t always easy but over time we have built trust.”
However, since the term ‘gentle parenting’ has only been in circulation in recent years, Although the content made by parents demonstrating their gentle parenting methods is impactful and resonates with users, it is important to demonstrate there are professionals who promote gentle parenting, too. To bridge this gap, it is down to users like Dr Velez, mother of two and child psychologist, who shared her opinion on the consequences versus punishment line of discipline.
In her own video, Velez clarifies that there is a distinction between the idea of punishing a child, and the child understanding the consequences of their actions, stressing that the distinction between consequences and punishment lies with intent, to punish means to induce suffering in response to someone’s actions, while consequences are more neutral in nature, referring to the idea of cause and effect.
Velez provided the example of a child throwing his ice cream because he didn’t like the flavour. A punishment for this would be to take his iPad or ban him from gaming for the night. However, a consequence that inspires thought about previous actions would instead be to say he cannot have ice cream tonight for dessert. That is because there is a common thread of ice cream to prompt a relationship between his behaviour and the consequence. She explains that punishment can inspire fear and subsequent obedience. Meanwhile, a consequence inspires thought about why what the child did was wrong.
As Lauralove5514 said in her video, her son would face a correlated consequence for breaking her iPad by not being allowed to play on it when it was repaired or replaced. This will, hopefully, make him consider taking better care of electronics. He is not being punished by having his dessert taken away or being told he cannot go out to play, no, his consequence is related to the misbehaviour, accident or not.
It is worth considering how this parenting style can impact a child’s development as they grow, which is where the example of fellow TikTok content creator, ToriPhantom (they/them) comes into play. Their children are pre-teens and they have been raised to communicate their needs and emotions when they occur. When their daughter copied a fictional character and wrapped herself in her curtains and knocked the curtain rail down, they had a conversation, the rail was put back up, and Tori provided an alternative of instead wrapping herself up in a blanket for the same effect. This is a method gentle parents use with younger children which still translates upward as children grow. For example, LauraLove5514’s son poured chocolate milk into their fridge freezer because it was an engine in their game. This behaviour was corrected, with both boys acknowledging what happened, honestly, and helped clean up the mess that had been made, an alternative of using a cup or a bowl for the engine instead.
ToriPhantom and LauraLove5514 both acknowledged they experienced negative effects from their parents’ parenting styles when they were growing up and they adopted a kinder approach to parenting to avoid that same thing happening to their own children.
As Tori so eloquently said, “Words matter and we don’t get to pick what our kids remember. So I’m thoughtful and careful with the words I choose, and when I do say the wrong thing I apologize, kids are learning how to be people and it’s our example that’s teaching them. I treat my kids the way I wanna be treated and the way I want my kids to treat other people. The way we talk to our kids is how they’re going to talk about themselves. I talk to my kids like they’re whole people cause they are.”