Young parents are breaking down ‘reactive’ VS ‘gentle’ parenting in viral TikTok trend

TikTok parents are popularizing a more compassionate way to raise kids — and experts agree future generations will thank us for it.

It’s called gentle parenting, and thanks to TikTok, it’s becoming a mainstream technique that more and more families are embracing.

The term “gentle parenting” might give the impression that kids today are being raised without discipline, structure, or expectations. But really, gentle parenting is simply the opposite of reactive parenting, a term used to define emotion-fueled reactions.

When we lose our temper, bark orders, or resort to screaming or hitting, that is considered reactive parenting.

When we pause, listen, and calmly communicate our expectations or boundaries, that is considered gentle parenting. It can also be referred to as “positive parenting,” or “respectful parenting.”

According to experts, reactive parenting can be very damaging to children — perhaps why so many young parents are choosing to embrace gentle parenting instead.

While “gentle parenting” isn’t necessarily a new term — author Sarah Ockwell-Smith is credited with coining the term in her 2016 publication, The Gentle Parenting Book — the movement has gained quite a bit of momentum in the TikTok age.

“Parenting trends come and go,” writes Ockwell-Smith, who has a degree in psychology. “Gentle parenting is different. It isn’t a label for a precise set of rules, but a method of parenting that embraces the needs of parent and child, while being mindful of current science and child psychology. It means parenting with empathy, respect, understanding — and boundaries.”

So, why are so many younger generations embracing gentle parenting techniques over reactive parenting?

“A generation or two ago, children were seen and not heard,” said Amy Peterson, a parenting expert and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member. “This approach more or less dehumanized children, so interactions weren’t really on the radar.”

But now, times have changed — as has our perspective on children and how we treat them.

“We now live in a time where words matter,” Peterson continued. “Kindness matters. It is only natural that this starts in the home with those we love the most.”

But this movement isn’t just about embracing gentle parenting. It’s about breaking the cycle of reactive parenting, which can have serious long-term consequences on children’s mental health.

“Reactive parenting can affect a child in many ways,” said Peterson.

“One of the biggest effects is lowering a child’s self esteem. A child may develop a fear of failure, or of disappointing others, leading to an unwillingness to explore and try new things. It can also set up a relationship pattern of letting others treat them poorly.”

Today, many adult children are attempting to heal from their own reactive upbringing, and working hard not to pass that trauma down to their own kids.

There are a multitude of benefits to gentle parenting, both for children and their parents.

Gentle parenting can be seen as an investment in children, and a way to give them important tools they’ll need all throughout their adult life.

“Gentle parenting teaches kindness and consideration, the golden rule. It models how we talk to others. It models empathy, considering how someone else feels,” said Peterson.

“It also develops a child’s self-regulation,” she continued. “Rather than barking rules at a child, gentle parenting is like a pause button, giving the child time to consider what they are doing and why, and then the opportunity to choose to try again differently. These are skills that will serve a child throughout their life.”

That pause button is important for both the child and the parent, as it gives everyone a much-needed moment to step back and consider their emotions objectively.

“Gentle parenting is also like a pause button for the parent to consider why their child is struggling: are they tired, hungry, overstimulated?” said Peterson.”

“By recognizing the ‘why’ behind the behavior, parents can learn to intervene before the issue arises. As the child grows, the parent can teach the child to recognize the cues and proactively take care of themselves.”

According to Dr. Rufus Tony Spann, licensed professional counselor and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member, embracing gentle parenting will also lead to a deeper, healthier relationship between parents and their children.

“Maintaining a harsh environment with a child could further push them away from you and prevent them from having a deeper bond,” says Dr. Spann.

“Parents that maintain effective communication create a trust, bond, and loving connection appear to have a longer and deeper relationship with their children.”

In the end, every parent is going to stumble here and there; no parent can be perfect every second of every day — just as no child can.

“Gentle parenting does not mean our children will become perfect. A child will not always choose to make a better choice when given the opportunity. By nature, children test limits and push boundaries,” said Peterson.

“Gentle parenting does not replace the need for consequences, but it will often prevent the need for consequences. Gentle parenting is like a warning bell that lets the child know when they are teetering on the edge of the boundary, and in time, hopefully they will learn to pull back on their own.”

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