Gentle Parenting vs. Respectful Parenting: What's the Difference

Gentle Parenting vs. Respectful Parenting: What's the Difference

I've come across numerous articles online that delve into the distinctions between gentle parenting and respectful parenting. Frankly, I don't see too many disparities, and honestly, I don't really mind. Parenting isn't about adhering to definitions. The practice can often diverge from the theory, making parenting a challenging real-world endeavor.

When I talk about gentle parenting or respectful parenting, I'm essentially referring to the same approach to parenting. These methods, or call them whatever you like, serve as guidelines, as goals.

I've read that the term "gentle" might carry a sense of being subdued, implying that parents should suppress strong emotions and avoid firm words with their children. But when I use "gentle," it's not a rigid rule; it's more like an ideal that's not always attainable.

Let's face it, as parents, we experience tiredness, frustration, and anger. We're human, and our emotions are valid. It's hard to always be gentle in our feelings or words, but there is one powerful word we can use: "Sorry."

Respectful parenting recognizes that both parents and children can have intense emotions. It acknowledges that you don't have to be calm all the time; what's crucial is managing those powerful emotions thoughtfully.

A common misconception is linking "gentle" to permissiveness. People often worry that setting boundaries will be compromised. However, strong boundaries are crucial not just for parents but also for our children. Boundaries create a sense of security!

Here's my take on respectful parenting:

  • Balanced Boundaries for Both

Let's say a parent wants to leave the bedroom after saying goodnight for some personal downtime. This need is respected. Meanwhile, if the child feels anxious about nighttime separation, that's respected too. The solution might involve a bedtime routine that's caring and affectionate, leaving the child feeling loved when the lights go out. It might not be perfect from the child's perspective, but that's okay.

  • Saying "No" is Valid

 You're absolutely allowed to say no to your child's requests. No explanations needed. For instance, if your child insists on talking only after lights out, you simply respond with a firm “no”, or better “no, I understand you want to talk again, I promise we will talk tomorrow". Yes, it might stir some discomfort in both you and your child, but that's alright.

  • Embracing Big Emotions

 If your child misses out on bedtime stories due to a time limit (timers are a bedtime game-changer, by the way), you stick to the boundary and allow your child to react strongly. You don't have to explain or convince. You stay composed, sympathetic, and mostly silent, letting your child express themselves. Give yourself permission to feel big emotions too. You don't need to throw a toddler-like tantrum, but you can certainly take a bathroom break for a few deep breaths, even if it means your child is crying outside the door. 

  • Natural Consequences Over Punishments

The distinction here is crucial. Punishments often come from negative emotions and involve consequences unrelated to the behavior. Take away screen time because a child threw a block at another? That's a punishment.

Natural consequences, on the other hand, are calmly delivered in direct response to the behavior. If a block is thrown, the blocks go away. The connection is clear to your child: "You're showing me you can't use the blocks safely, so we'll put them away for now." Your child may not like it, but they'll understand.

  • Understanding Behavior Context

This doesn't mean letting your child get away with things. It means grasping the bigger picture behind their behavior. For instance, if your child is hitting because of jealousy toward a new baby, you might restrain their hands to prevent hitting while also setting aside time for play later.

You acknowledge the emotion, correct the behavior, and provide options:

"I know you're upset about leaving. Do you want help with your shoes?" A tantrum isn't put on a pedestal; it's tolerated briefly, followed by a hug, and then moving forward.

In the end, a schedule can be authoritative, and that's okay. Children's brains aren't developed enough to create daily schedules. As adults, we need to make decisions that our kids might not like. When it's time to go, yes, the shoes need to be on. There's a way to achieve this clarity without resorting to negativity.

Respectful parenting isn't a breeze. It's challenging to keep your cool consistently. Yet, by respecting your own boundaries and acting preemptively, parenting can actually become easier!
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