The approach flourishes because it caters to a child’s inner life. What does it neglect?
In her latest book, “Brain-Body Parenting” (Harper Wave), child psychologist Mona Delahooke reflects on her past struggles as a parent. She admits to moments of stress-induced authoritarian behavior, like rushing her kids due to her own overwhelming feelings. Reading her account made me reflect on my own battles, particularly during morning routines with my five-year-old. Delahooke’s gentle parenting philosophy, outlined in “Brain-Body Parenting,” aligns with a trend among conscientious parents, lacking a singular doctrine but encompassing various approaches like “respectful parenting,” “mindful parenting,” and “intentional parenting.”
This method focuses on understanding a child’s emotions and motivations rather than just correcting their behavior. It encourages setting boundaries, offering choices instead of commands, and avoiding rewards and punishments. The idea is that by validating a child’s emotions consistently, they learn self-regulation naturally, without external incentives. It’s a departure from the prevalent “authoritative parenting” style that blends emotional awareness with both positive and negative reinforcement techniques.
Delahooke’s book vividly explains the developmental aspects of children’s physiology, emphasizing that they aren’t wired for self-control yet. This knowledge has reshaped my interactions with my kids, making me a more mindful and empathetic parent. However, amid the widespread adoption of gentle parenting, there’s a growing sense of restlessness among parents. Some feel fatigued by the relentless focus on a child’s every emotion and the stringent adherence to maintaining emotional composure.
Practical advice from experts like Kennedy and Bennett is highly sought after. Kennedy offers adaptable strategies for common conflicts, while Bennett, a Black voice in a predominantly white field, shares relatable interactions with her own children through TikTok. However, some prescribed guidelines, like banning certain phrases, can feel restrictive. Einzig warns against using “condescending” language like “We don’t” with children, advocating for equal respect in communication with them.
While gentle parenting offers valuable insights, there’s a rising sentiment that certain aspects might be overly prescriptive. The emphasis on avoiding specific phrases or behaviors could sometimes feel limiting, leading to a debate about the balance between nurturing a child’s emotions and practical parenting.
In “Brain-Body Parenting” and the broader gentle-parenting discussion, a significant theme suggests that children’s challenging behaviors stem from stress and are essentially adaptive physiological responses, rather than pure defiance. However, this assumption can be questioned when faced with situations like a child throwing objects at traffic. It presents a confounding dilemma for parents, particularly as children move beyond the toddler stage, where boundary-testing might occur merely for the thrill of it. The gentle-parenting approach insists on interpreting every action through a lens of anxiety and threat, adding to the parent’s role as both a child psychologist and an emotional-security guard.
The discourse around why a child might feel threatened or stressed often leads to explanations like those offered in Lansbury’s “Unruffled.” This perspective suggests that a child’s aggression or defiance is a result of feeling attacked, judged, or misunderstood, requiring a parent to be curious about their behavior rather than punitive. However, some aspects of gentle parenting tend to solely focus on validating the child, disregarding the impact on other family members or the broader social implications of certain behaviors.
While Mona Delahooke’s “Brain-Body Parenting” maintains a warm and forgiving tone, it also portrays everyday parental struggles, like saying, “Hurry up! You’re making us late!” as significant issues. This perspective might instill doubt in readers about their own parenting methods, leading them to reconsider what they might have considered minor issues before.
There’s a tendency in contemporary parenting literature to present child-rearing as an intricate science, emphasizing the profound influence parents have on their children’s development. This can create a distorted sense of power in parenting decisions—believing that specific actions or phrases could directly determine a child’s future outcomes. It also encourages a delicate balance between being present and emotionally available for the child while suppressing one’s own emotional responses to avoid negative consequences.
Parenting, ultimately, involves a paradox: being responsible for children while recognizing the limitations of that responsibility. Children can be molded by parental influence, yet they also possess their own agency and traits that may not be entirely shaped by parental guidance.
In the midst of navigating these complexities, one morning stood out when trying to coax my son to get ready. Despite my gentle attempts, I found myself questioning each phrase I used, attempting to adhere to the strictest standards of gentle parenting. Surprisingly, for reasons beyond comprehension, my son eventually complied and put on his shoes, perhaps unrelated to anything specific I said or did.