I was really excited to be sent a copy of Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s latest book, The Gentle Parenting Book. I always find there are tons of books about babies, and a few about toddlers – but then nothing, until they become difficult teenagers. There’s very little to help you get from toddlerhood to the teenage years – especially if you’re not a fan of the naughty step and punishment in general – so this book was just what I’d been looking for.
I reviewed Toddlercalm and loved it, and then I was sent the Gentle Sleep Book for review – I loved that too! I was excited to read this one too and I was not disappointed! In the same way that getting you newborn to “sleep through the night” apparently guarantees perfect sleep forever more, the parenting books seem to end at the pesky toddler stage and assume everything will be peachy. There’s a massive gap there, where parents are on our own, save for the judgmental glances from old ladies in the supermarket. This is the only book I’ve come across that covers children over the age of 4, and does so in a gentle manner.
Gentle parenting is not the permissive style where we place our child on a pedestal and jump at their every whim; it doesn’t mean we do anything to avoid their crying, and it doesn’t mean they will grow up as little emperors. Gentle parents strive to respect their children whilst setting firm boundaries. Children like to have boundaries; they thrive on them. Children of gentle parents still have meltdowns when everything gets too much. They still test their boundaries; they still do things their parents don’t want them to do. The difference with gentle parenting is that we don’t use the naughty step. We don’t use threats; we try to avoid raising our voices; we speak calmly to our children and explain what’s going on. And when they cry, we hold them and talk through their feelings.
People are always commenting on S’s happy demeanour. I have been blessed with the world’s most happy, confident and caring child. A lot of that has to be nature, but the small part of it that’s nurture, I believe is because I do my best to raise her with gentle parenting. I try to avoid shouting, and when my temper does get the better of me I kneel down and apologise. I explain things to her: where we’re going, what we’re doing, who we’re seeing so that she knows what to expect. And yes, I allow her to have a certain amount of control wherever I can. She chooses her own clothes; she decides what she’ll have for breakfast; we discuss what shops we’ll go into. I was very keen to read this book because I feel like as she gets older and goes to school I’ll face new challenges with my parenting, and I don’t want to end up feeling like putting her into timeout or taking toys away is my only option.
In this book Sarah Ockwell-Smith gives practical tips for dealing with children’s behaviour, but also gives science backed reasons for not using things like force and punishment. So many of the popular parenting approaches and TV shows these days don’t allow for the fact that actually, young children are not capable of things like regulating their emotions or seeing things from another person’s point of view. When we think they are showing these abilities, what they’re actually displaying is a learned response: Daddy is shouting, and he might stop if I do this… Last time I did this, mummy was happy with me. Sarah Ockwell-Smith explains the biology behind this: the fact that the part of the brain that controls this sort of thing is not even physically developed until a child is older.
The book is divided into sections: Bump to Birth; Birth to Three Months; Three to Six Months; Six to Twelve Months; One to Four Years and Four to Seven Years. There is also a chapter on transitioning from mainstream to gentle parenting and another on taking care of your own needs. I found this layout really useful; it means you can just jump to the section relevant to your child’s age, and follow on through the book as your child gets older.
Unlike a lot of parenting books, this one has a detailed reference section, where Ockwell-Smith backs up everything she says with scientific studies and endless further reading – I don’t recall reading that at the end of certain other parenting books! There’s also a section of resources with lots of websites and organisations that can help people who are struggling with different situations.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to all parents – and all people who work with children. As a society we seem to have such high expectations of small children and what they’re capable of. I pass children in the street who are having some sort of meltdown while their parents hiss at them to get your boots off my foot and offer no comfort. Popular TV shows and the media as a whole have led parents to believe that their children are just small adults, capable of manipulating them from birth, and of reasoning and judgement at a very young age. I feel like copies of this book should be handed out to the parents of newborns in hospitals. Everyone should read it!
Thanks for reading.