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Debunking misconceptions: The power of responsive parenting + Gentle night-time parenting techniques

Updated: Apr 14

Grab a coffee and let's unravel the mystery behind this “trendy” rearing style of Gentle or Responsive Parenting and Sleep.

What gentle parenting is not?

To discuss responsive parenting, I first need to address the swirling storm of misconceptions that often cloud people's understanding. Perhaps you've heard a TikTok "expert" proclaim, "It's just a trend!" dismissively labelling it as "coddling." or that "only gentle children can be gentle parented!" Some argue that it leads to bad behaviour or mistake it for permissive parenting. And there's always that one voice whispering, "Your kids are going to walk all over you!"

Before I start calling out some of BS above, let’s shed light on what gentle parenting truly entails. By peeling back the layers of misunderstanding we can uncover the transformative power this approach holds for both children and their caregivers. So, let me kick those preconceived notions to the curb and explain the essence of gentle parenting and understand why its principles are at odds with crying and separation-based sleep training methods.

Gentle night-time parenting techniques

Understanding Gentle Parenting

It all revolves around building a strong parent-child relationship based on mutual respect, understanding, and open communication. Therefore, gentle parenting, also considered as parenting in an authoritative style, is a compassionate and empathetic approach to raising children. Unlike authoritarian or permissive styles, gentle parents seek to strike a balance between setting and holding boundaries while valuing collaboration and nurturing independence.

What sets this particular rearing style apart is the extensive body of empirical evidence that supports its effectiveness. Here, I am sharing a list of exactly 63 relevant studies (link to the pdf - it will download as a pdf) that support how this approach cultivates high self-efficacy, fosters secure attachment, and promotes healthy emotional development in children.

List of studies supporting authoritative parenting
Download PDF • 5.39MB

So, it's not just a passing trend; it has stood the test of time and shown its worth through rigorous research. And you can learn all about it in the free little handbook available for download at the bottom of this blog.

Now we have put to rest the notion that gentle parenting is a fleeting fad, let's see what gentle night-time parenting techniques are aligned with this approach to raising happy and resilient children.

Building Baby’s Independence and Self-Efficacy

Gentle parenting is a powerful catalyst for nurturing high self-efficacy and fostering independence in children. Thus, by acknowledging their capabilities and providing appropriate support, gentle parents empower their children to navigate the world with confidence.

Gentle parenting results study

But independence is the butterfly that comes out from the cocoon of radical dependence. Gentle parents are accepting that they cannot force, rush, train or teach a caterpillar to become a butterfly before it is ready.

One key aspect of gentle parenting is recognising the importance of allowing children to make age-appropriate choices and decisions.

People share the common example of allowing a toddler to choose between two outfits and how it helps develop their decision-making skills and instils a sense of autonomy and ownership over their lives.

And yet, parents are told that they must not allow their baby to choose contact napping over sleeping in the cot, to choose the boob over being rocked, to choose being carried in a carrier over lying on their play mat, even if they are so loud and clear about their preference.

Fostering Secure Attachment

Secure attachment is of paramount importance in a child's development, as it forms the foundation for healthy relationships and emotional well-being throughout their lives. Gentle parenting plays a crucial role in nurturing a strong bond between parents and children, fostering a secure attachment that reaps long-term benefits.

Gentle night-time parenting techniques foster secure attachment

When parents practice gentle parenting, they prioritise building a deep and trusting connection with their children. By responding promptly to their needs, offering comfort, and providing consistent emotional support, you can create a safe and secure environment for your child to explore the world. This responsive and sensitive approach helps children develop a sense of trust, knowing that their caregivers are there for them, providing a secure base from which they can confidently venture out.

Research has consistently shown the profound and enduring benefits of secure attachment. Children who experience secure attachment are more likely to develop higher self-esteem, better emotional regulation, and enhanced social skills. They exhibit greater resilience in the face of stress and adversity, as they have a secure base from which to seek support and reassurance. Furthermore, secure attachment promotes healthy brain development and leads to improved cognitive abilities and academic success.

Responsive Baby Sleep Techniques

Alright, let's have a chat about responsive baby sleep techniques. This approach is all about tuning in to our little ones' needs and responding to them with love and care. It's like having a sleep dance where we learn to read our baby's cues and provide the support they need for a restful slumber (or a catnap).

responsive settling methods for babies

Co-sleeping, part time or full time, is one option many parents choose due to the ease of responding and improved sleep it can offer for all. This practice can involve sharing a sleep space with our babies or having them very close in a separate space, fostering a sense of security and comfort.

Is gentle sleep training the same as gentle night-time parenting techniques?

Hold on a second, let's address a common misconception: the belief that gentle sleep training methods are the same as truly responsive sleep approaches.

Gentle sleep training, encompassing “responsive settling,” "pick up, put down," "camping out" and other techniques proclaim to be about finding a balance between responsiveness and teaching independent sleep skills.

Many parents are told by their trusted health professionals as early as a few months old that baby "can" or "should" be sleeping through the night and/or not eating during the night. If the parent says their baby is waking or feeding at night, the default is to offer strategies to "fix" this. These days, so-called ”gentle” sleep training strategies will be suggested. The problem is: Gentle sleep training is just sleep training - and does not change the baby's actual sleeping patterns, only their signalling behaviour. Because sleep is developmental, not taught.

Now, let's talk about truly responsive night-time parenting techniques.

responsive night-time parenting techniques

This approach looks different for every family and baby, but at its core, it is about attuning to, listening to, and being unconditionally responsive to your baby when they signal to you. How it looks exactly will depend on your unique family and your baby’s needs.

Optimising sleep may involve assessing day and night activities and sleep for any sources contributing to disruption, creating a positive bedtime routine that sets the stage for a good night’s sleep, offering comfort and reassurance when needed, sleeping on the same or different sleep surfaces, and fostering a sense of security throughout the night. It's about supporting your baby's sleep in a way that is sustainable for the family.

Being truly responsive is, despite popular belief, also not completely at odds with making any changes to things that aren’t working. However, it’s important to be realistic about what is possible developmentally and for your individual baby. For example, aiming to change from rocking to sleep to cuddling or lying next to your baby as they fall asleep may be more realistic and appropriate than expecting your baby to “self-settle”.

So, whether it's co-sleeping, contact napping, rocking or nursing to sleep, these truly responsive settling methods for babies embrace the needs of our little ones and promote healthy sleep habits with love and respect.

It's like a symphony of sleep where we dance with our little ones.

In a few months, some dance moves will fall out of the choreography.

About a year from now, we may not get asked to dance as often as we are now. Or maybe, another caregiver may become a better dancer than us.

It is so damn hard to dance every few hours every night!

But I see you, you’re doing a great job.

Support your baby in the unique way only they need you to.

Thanks for reading all the way, let me know if this resonates with you and do share this blog with someone who needs to read it

Take care,

Jess, Founder Infant Sleep Scientist

If you are experiencing common sleep challenges, one-to-one options can be found here. I also have courses and guides available for infant sleep, night weaning, and toddler sleep 12m+ and run live webinars periodically on various topics like moving on from bedsharing and getting partners involved in sleep routines. Sign up here so you can be kept in the loop

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