Parenting is a constant journey of exploration, filled with debates on the best methods to discipline and raise resilient children.
While traditional approaches often favor a strict demeanor, there’s a growing movement toward parenting gently. The pushback against gentleness-oriented parenting says that speaking kindly and focusing on empathy over punishment will make our kids weak.
But therapist Eli Harwood, author of Securely Attached: Transform Your Attachment Patterns Into Loving, Lasting Romantic Relationships insists that gentleness doesn’t weaken kids; rather, it empowers them to face life’s challenges with strength and resilience.
Gentleness Teaches Useful Skills and Promotes Calm
Gentleness in parenting is not about leniency but a deliberate approach that imparts crucial life skills and cultivates a sense of calm within children.
At its core, gentleness is an approach that imparts valuable skills to children and fosters a sense of calm. Instead of triggering the instinctual fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses, gentle parenting guides children in understanding their emotions, navigating challenges, and developing effective coping mechanisms.
Harwood, who is most famous as social media’s Attachment Nerd, spoke on the concept on Andrea Miller’s podcast “Open Relationships: Transforming Together”:
“The child’s brain develops in relationship to our care. So the more warm and receptive a child’s caregiver is, the more their brain is going to prioritize growth in the pre-frontal cortex; the part of the brain that’s responsible for empathy, for rational thinking, for regulation,” Harwood continues, “When we give our kids warmth and support, it gives them a brain advantage that then when they are in the real world and someone is being cold and harsh they will be more regulated in response to it, so they will be able to handle it better.”
This method creates an environment where open communication and problem-solving are encouraged. Trust becomes the cornerstone of the parent-child relationship, established through active listening, acknowledging a child’s feelings, and fostering a safe space for expression.
This lays the foundation for the acquisition of essential social and emotional skills that are invaluable in the development of well-rounded individuals.
Avoiding Yelling and Focusing on Calmness
Yelling has often been considered a quick fix in parenting, a way to impose authority and gain control over a situation. However, the cost of this approach is significant.
Yelling may achieve momentary quiet, but it comes at the expense of a child emotionally shutting down. Instead of facilitating understanding, it hinders a child’s ability to process and make sense of situations.
“If we as caregivers are harsh on our kids in order to prepare them for the harshness and coldness of the world, it makes them feel unsafe which their brain then allocates resources to the amygdala the brain is saying ‘this is a survival situation, no time for thinking: fight, flight, freeze, fawn’,” Hardwood explained on the podcast, ” Now their brain is set up for reactivity
Gentleness, on the other hand, involves addressing problems without resorting to fear tactics. It creates a secure space where children feel safe expressing their thoughts and emotions.
By avoiding the pitfalls of yelling, gentleness allows children to respond positively, engaging in constructive discussions about the issues they face.
This approach not only strengthens the parent-child bond but also teaches children effective communication and conflict-resolution skills.
The Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn Response
Understanding the instinctual responses of fight, flight, freeze, and fawn is paramount in effective parenting. Harsh disciplinary measures, such as yelling or punitive actions, can trigger these responses, hindering a child’s ability to learn and adapt effectively.
Gentle parenting, by contrast, nurtures a balanced and thoughtful approach to problem-solving.
In a gentle environment, children learn to manage conflicts without defaulting to defensive or aggressive reactions. This not only shapes their interpersonal relationships but also equips them with the emotional intelligence necessary to navigate the complexities of the outside world.
By fostering a more nuanced response to challenges, gentleness contributes to the development of resilient, adaptable individuals.
Look, parenting is hard but a worthwhile journey to make. Choosing to parent through gentleness is a powerful and transformative force. Far from making children soft, gentleness nurtures qualities such as empathy and the ability to navigate life’s twists and turns with grace.
It is not about making things easier for children but about preparing them to face life’s challenges with strength, wisdom, and resilience.
It’s time to recognize that being gentle isn’t about taking the easy path but about building children who are not only strong and resilient but also empathetic and capable of thriving in the complexities of the real world.
As Harwood stated on the podcast, “We’re not softening them up by giving them lots of warmth and care we’re actually just insulating them — empowering them.”
In choosing gentleness, parents empower their children to become individuals who can face challenges head-on, armed with the skills and emotional intelligence needed to succeed in life.
Deauna Roane is a writer and the Editorial Project Manager for YourTango. She’s had bylines in Emerson College’s literary magazine, Generic, and MSN.