There’s no one definition of natural parenting. A combination of attachment parenting, sustainable living, holistic health practices, and at-home education or “unschooling,” this peaceful parenting style was popular in the 1970s, but is coming back in full force.
You may have heard it called off-grid or gentle parenting, even intensive mothering. The Natural Parents Network describes the practice as “a desire to live and parent responsively and consciously.” Raised Good says natural parenting is “how mother nature designed us to parent.” It’s the “scenic route” of parenting, encouraging children to reach milestones in their own time.
American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Early Childhood Executive Committee member Dipesh Navsaria, MD, tells Parentology “the challenge in [natural] parenting is to simultaneously allow things to happen at their own pace, while also watching intensely for signs of potential trouble.”
The Theory Behind the Method
Natural Parenting’s philosophy is centered on meeting babies’ and children’s needs, no matter what other parents, schools or other parenting resources say. A “natural parent” tries to be so in tune with their child they instinctively know what’s best for them. The parent-child relationship becomes more like peers as the child develops — the opposite of the “I’m your parent, not your friend” approach.
The Great Natural Parenting Debate
Natural parenting is often criticized by traditional parenting advocates, who warn against spoiling children or comforting them so much they don’t learn how to self-soothe. Natural parents call this a “flawed, adult-centered approach” that sets kids up for “insecurity and emotional dysfunction.”
The Natural Parents Network argues though their concepts may seem unconventional, they’re more traditional than modern parenting styles — natural learning, holistic health practices, and babywearing (carrying your child in a sling around your body) have been practiced in some form for millennia.
Some aspects of natural parenting can be integrated into any parenting style: eco-friendly products like cloth diapers, quality time outside, natural childbirth, healthy eating and homeschooling. Die-hard natural parents take these practices to the extreme, trying to facilitate learning without outright teaching, and never disciplining their child or telling them what to do. They don’t believe in traditional development milestones, so kids may be behind in weaning, walking, reading and more.
This is the central theme of natural parenting: letting kids develop, well, naturally, at their own pace, no matter when they’re “supposed” to meet certain milestones.
Navsaria says it’s entirely possible for children to be “on track,” or even advanced in some areas of development, while being delayed in others. While every child grows at their own pace, which natural parenting encourages, Navsaria says it’s still important to compare your child’s signs of progress to what’s typically expected for their age. “After all, developmental milestones are tracked for good reason.”
If they’re delayed, there may be some underlying issue — this can be overlooked if parents take the natural route to the extreme. According to Navsaria,
Navsaria says in some cases intervention by childcare professionals may be necessary, but that “good intervention doesn’t blindly ‘push’ children to progress before they’re ready.” The goal is to “ensure they have the right stimulation, and removal of any medical or environmental obstacles, if found, so they can reach their expected potential, thrive, and flourish.”
Related Family Jargon
Natural Parenting: Sources
Natural Parenting Network
Raised Good: Parenting By Nature
Australian Association of Infant Mental Health
Dipesh Navsaria, MD, American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Early Childhood Executive Committee member