This “gentle parenting” guru gives advice on raising confident children

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Having a relationship with your child based on empathy and mutual respect, also known as “gentle parenting,” can make them more confident, according to a popular childcare author.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who wrote “The Gentle Parenting Book,” told CNBC by telephone that “gentle” parents have a good understanding of their child’s abilities, so expectations about their behavior are “age appropriate. “.

In other words, she said “gentle” parents don’t expect their child to act like an adult, but sympathize with their behavior. For example, if they misbehave, she said that a “gentle” parent would seek to teach their child a better way to express their emotions, rather than punishing them.

Ockwell-Smith explained that if children grow up in a home with less yelling and punishment, it has a “massive impact on their self-esteem.”

She also said that calmer, more empathetic parenthood also has a positive neurological effect, in terms of developing a child’s amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. Ockwell-Smith said research has shown that if children grow up in a more “supportive and encouraging” environment, then that part of their brains get bigger.

“So you’ve literally developed the part of their brain that’s responsible for their emotions and for being calm when they’re older,” Ockwell-Smith said.

For example, a study conducted by a researcher at the University of Montreal, published in March, indicated that “harsh parenting” may actually stunt a child’s brain growth. A 2012 study of preschool children by academics at the University of Washington indicated a “positive effect of early parental support on healthy development of the hippocampus,” which is a key brain region for memory, learning and stress modulation.

“Architects” of a child’s life

Ockwell-Smith said research has shown that the way children are raised, especially in the first five years of their lives, is key to developing their self-esteem and future relationships with those who care for them. surround.

A 2016 article from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University cited research that found that more than a million new synapses, or connections between neurons in the brain, form every second during the first few years of life. the life of a child. Later, these connections are reduced, which is a process called pruning, keeping those connections that are “strengthened” by what they experience and learn. The authors of the article therefore argued that positive experiences during these early years are essential to create a solid foundation for a child’s development.

Indeed, Ockwell-Smith said parents acted as the “architects” of a child’s life, so there was “nothing more important” than the way they were brought up in those early years.

She explained that there were three main styles of parenting: bossy, bossy (also known as “soft parenting”) and permissive.

Unlike “soft parenting”, the authoritarian approach could be characterized as “old school” parenting, she said. Parents who follow this approach generally demand respect from their child, she said, with punishments for misconduct also being frequently used.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, “permissive” parents can be categorized as those who have low expectations of their child, offering a lack of discipline and direction, according to an explanation on the Ockwell-Smith website.

“Good free space”

However, Ockwell-Smith said it is very important for parents to work on one of their own issues first, before seeking to follow advice on “gentle parenting”.

She said “we have to start with ourselves – so we have to think about” what are my stressors? Why am I behaving the way I do? Why does it trigger me so much when my child says or does something? Will I be a good role model? ‘”

She explained that this was important because a parent could do or say all the right things, but if he was not calm and angry a child would always understand that – “it is not magic, it is not. won’t work unless you’re in a good headspace first. ”

It could mean working on their own issues from childhood, or issues as an adult, such as needing to set boundaries with other adults.

This could involve, for example, ensuring that the “mental burden” of parenthood is shared more fairly with a partner, Ockwell-Smith said.

That being said, she stressed that it is also important for parents to speak up when they are “at full capacity” and need time out.

She said that following this advice was not about “aiming to be perfect all the time” and realizing that it was okay to make mistakes as a parent, as it also helped teach children what to do. when they made mistakes.


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