My husband and I recently took a family trip to Florida. It was an absolutely wonderful trip. I got to meet a couple of my gentle parenting Facebook friends and their children during the trip.
It was interesting though because there were a few conversations about parents not “controlling” (I hate the word “control” when it comes to children. Children are not for controlling!) their children by a few people who don’t completely understand about gentle parenting. It did seem though that what they described, children running around a restaurant with no boundaries, was permissive parenting.
Sadly, many people mistake gentle parenting for permissive parenting. These two styles of parenting are completely different! Let me define them before I talk about why permissive parenting is hurting the gentle parenting movement.
There are actually three parenting styles. These three parenting styles are authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. If parents physically punish their children, they are authoritarian, even if they do some of the things that authoritative parents do such as listening to their children at times or offer some choices to the children. This is because authoritarian parenting stresses obedience without question, first-time obedience, strictness, and the use of punishment, especially corporal punishment, with their children.
Authoritarian parents also have very high (usually beyond what the children are developmentally capable of) expectations for their children. While authoritarian parents, in general, love their children very much and simply want the best for them, these parents tend to focus more on keeping control of their children than on using effective discipline strategies that respect the actual needs of the individual child.
Authoritative parents are firm but gentle with their children. They take the time to learn about child development and know at which stage their children are developmentally in order to gain a better understanding of their children’s behaviors.
Authoritative parents set firm, realistic boundaries and limits for their children based on the developmental stage of their children. While these parents stick to their guns on some things, such as bedtime and not allowing their children to eat cookies before suppertime, they always listen to all of their children’s feelings and validate those feelings.
In situations where negotiation can occur, such as allowing five more minutes of playtime before having their children clean up, these parents do so. These parents also give their children simple choices when appropriate, but they are not afraid to let their children know when something is not a choice and cooperation is absolutely required. When children don’t cooperate, authoritative parents will gently but firmly help their children cooperate. And these parents use natural and logical consequences with their children instead of punishment.
Permissive parenting, on the other hand, is the direct opposite of authoritarian parenting. Permissive parenting is just as harmful and abusive to children as authoritarian parenting, even though these two parenting styles are on the two polar ends when it comes to parenting styles.
Permissive parents do not set limits or boundaries for their children. And when these parents do set limits and boundaries for their children, they often don’t consistently enforce them. Some permissive parents allow their children to “walk all over them,” to have whatever they want, and rarely do these parents give their children appropriate consequences when necessary.
Other permissive parents outright neglect all of their children’s needs. They do not even give their children appropriate and necessary care. All of permissive parenting, as I said above, is abusive because either type does not provide children with what they need to thrive. It also exasperates and frustrates children not to have any discipline just like spanking them does. Permissive and authoritarian parents break God’s charge for parents not to frustrate or exasperate their children in Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21.
So when I hear about parents letting their preschool children run around in a restaurant, I cringe. Everyone there was probably thinking, “Parents today let their kids run wild. I wish they’d spank those brats.” Spanking/hitting those preschoolers would not teach them how to behave in a restaurant. Rather, spanking/hitting them would teach fear which is not a good thing.
Plus, referring to children in a derogatory manner is never good. But permissive parenting brings out the authoritarians with force.
So, how would a gentle (authoritative) parent handle this situation? First, they would have been practicing in a fun, playful way how to eat at a restaurant. They would have been modeling manners from the time the children were infants.
Second, they would know that young children can’t sit quietly for long periods of time and would have brought crayons and paper for the children to color. They also would have engaged the children in the family conversation.
Third, they would have ordered the food as soon as possible so the children didn’t have to wait as long.
And finally, if the children would have gotten antsy and started running around, the gentle parent would have stopped them and perhaps they would have left early.
Yes, gentle parents allow their children to be children, which for authoritarian parents, this may look like permissiveness because the children aren’t being “controlled,” but it isn’t. It’s respecting the children for who they are.
I had the pleasure of going out to eat with a gentle family while in Florida and the children were excellent! They were allowed to play quietly at the table. They were included in the conversation. Not once did they act up.
Respected children are better behaved because they are seen and treated like the little people that they are. Their needs are met. They are taught right from wrong without it being scary. They are aware of limits and consequences.
Permissive parenting does not treat children as little people. Children are not taught right from wrong. And they crave limits and consequences.
Worse yet, people mistake permissive parenting with gentle parenting!
If these people could hang out with children who are gentle parented, they would never confuse it with permissiveness. They also would be against spanking/hitting and other forms of punishment because gentle parented children are amazing!
Yes, all children have their not so nice moments, but hey, so do I. What I see in children who are respected is that they have empathy and can eventually put themselves in other’s shoes as that is how their parents teach them. They also don’t need to act up to get attention because attention is automatically given to them. And they don’t regularly get put in situations where it’s too much for them to handle.
Permissive parenting creates self-entitled and struggle in life just as spanked/hit children do. They don’t learn self-control either which can lead them down a bad road.
Gentle, authoritative, attachment parenting is truly the best way to raise children. Yes, there will be times when gentle parents lean toward authoritarianism or permissiveness depending on the situation, and that is okay. But people should be able to look at a family and tell if they are gentle.
I’m asking all parents to please look at your parenting and make sure you are in the authoritative, gentle, respectful parenting style. Stop making people confuse the three parenting styles. Make authoritarian parents want to come to the middle and become authoritative.
Respectful adults come from children who were respected throughout childhood!