Should Gentle Parents Speak Nicely To Their Kids? No.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

Last week, I wrote about a strange trend in the gentle parenting community where the criticism of naysayers seems to be affecting the direction of the work of gentle parenting content creators. I’m going take this opportunity to expand a bit on speech communication as a gentle parent. So, should gentle parents speak nicely to their kids? Absolutely not. Well, wait, let me rephrase. It really depends on what we mean by nice.

I wrote this a few years ago about kindness versus niceness:

Dictionaries don’t offer much of a distinction, but clearly we do differentiate in common parlance. Niceness is demonstrably synonymous with politeness, whereas kindness exists in a deeper, more committed space. I propose my own definitions for the sake of clarity.

Niceness is the quality of being polite in pursuit of respectability and maintaining the status quo. Niceness avoids conflicts and behaves in socially acceptable ways in order to reveal our best intentions. Niceness derives from humanity’s basic drive to be accepted within a social group. Clothes can be nice. Days can be nice. Dogs can be nice. People can be nice. Niceness is the overarching compliment paid to those who make us feel good. However, it can be misleading at best and fraudulent at worst. Niceness uses adherence to social standards as a means to improve a person’s social standing and, therefore, it cannot be relied upon to advance all people equally. Not when our culture suffers from disparities in equity across all aspects of identity…

…Kindness, on the other hand, is active compassion and connection built out of intentional service to others. It accounts for its impacts.

Authoritarian parents speak nicely to their kids. Mine did. And, it was for the purpose of manipulation. Have you heard of the Uh Oh Song in the authoritarian disciplinary system, Love and Logic? Listen to this explanation of the steps of the Uh Oh Song:

It may sound pretty good on the surface, but it is controlling and coercive. The parent uses a singsongy voice to introduce behavior management that utilizes planned ignoring of the cries of the child who is relegated to their room in an effort to make them act right. Love and Logic simply doesn’t accept that all behavior is communication of an unmet need, every time. Rather, it forces the parent to decide if the child is expressing a need or a want. Do kids want their own way? Of, course they do and you do too. That’s not the point at all. And, the entire process of the Uh Oh Song begins with parents assuming a nice, calm voice. Parents can communicate many emotions behind the façade of a nice voice, not all of them respectful.

So, no, with that said, parents do not need to be nice to their kids. We should be kind instead. Kindness requires respect, empathy, love, and graciousness. There is no reason we shouldn’t be speaking to our kids in our natural tones with good intentions and also an awareness of the impact of what we say and how we say it. We don’t need to be saccharine sweet to show our kids that we see them and care about what they care about. Just be genuine. And, maybe we should also think about telling our kids to speak or be “nice” to others.

How We Talk To Our Kids Matters

I’ve been noticing a growing trend in the gentle parenting community. I’ve seen it all over social media and these posts get a lot of positive feedback from people who agree wholeheartedly. What I’m talking about is parenting influencers who criticize the use of soft, singsong tones in other parents’ clips saying that’s not what gentle parenting is about.

But, here’s the problem. I have yet to see a gentle parent on social media encouraging people to use soft, singsong tones with kids. What I have seen, however, are people like the infamous Michelle Duggar using a soft, calm voice to “correct” her children, knowing full well that all her children were blanket trained and spanked. I’ve seen parents speaking quietly to the camera through gritted teeth in their videos about how their kids are assholes. And, I’ve also seen critics of gentle parenting accuse gentle parents of using unrealistic, infantilizing soft… singsong… tones.

I think what might be happening is that these gentle parenting influencers are all reacting to a bogeyman conjured by critics and forced upon us to reckon with. It’s the specter of a culture that diminishes the work we do by calling our children out of control, calling us enablers, and mocking every move we make. The reality is that gentle parents have lots of different forms of communication that are influenced by age, culture, language, upbringing, and the like. Plus, some of us (like me) who tend toward anger, use whispering as a way to regulate ourselves and draw our children in so that they can hear us and so that we won’t yell. Getting quiet is a great way to be heard when energies are high.

My advice to anyone who wants to know how they should speak to their kids as a gentle parent is to be yourself. Be natural. Speak to your kids the way you speak to anyone else. Gentle parenting is not performative. It is intentional. We aren’t “acting” a certain way. We are working toward being conscious, responsive, connected people in a world that views conscious, responsive, connectedness as weak and foolish. It’s hard.

I have never baby-talked my kids. I usually speak to them the same way I speak to their father and other adults in my life. But, there are times when I whisper. And, there are times when I use soft, low, rhythmic sounds to help my kids ward off an impending meltdown. We can use our voices in ways that benefit our children while still being true to ourselves.

You know what that means, though. If you naturally speak in soft, singsong tones, you’re still doing it right. Live true, friends.