Gentle Teaching

Gentle Teaching is way of living with those around us in a manner in which a “spirit of gentleness” is encouraged.  It is a way of life that enable us and those around to “feel safe, loved, loving and engaged.” (

“Gentle Teaching is a non violent approach for helping people with special needs and sometimes challenging behaviors that focuses on four primary goals of care-giving:

- teaching the person to feel safe with us

- teaching the person to feel engaged with us

- teaching the person to feel unconditionally loved by us

- teaching the person to feel loving towards us”


The process of Gentle Teaching

The Gentle Teaching process is seen to be developed in three steps.

Step one involves the worker getting to know the individual and knowing “what it means to feel love and compassion” for them (  This statement can conjure up a number of issues as the use of the word ‘love’ springs up.  People’s perception of love suggests an intimacy that is more physical than that expected within a caring relationship.  The difficulty with this is that the individual receiving care may have no other people involved in their lives other than those who are paid to be there or those whose are required to look after them.  So where does this human being experience the natural feeling of being loved by another?

The Gentle Teaching Institute says:

“The first step for the care giver is to develop new values which are congruent with the principles of the psychology of interdependence.  The most important values are:

  • a person isn't to be judged for what he does, but valued for who he is
  • everybody needs to feel safe, loved, loving and connected to others
  • trust is more important than obedience
  • interdependence is more important than independence”


The process of Gentle Teaching involves the carer and individual building up a relationship that is more than staff to client but focuses on a companionship in which both parties feel safe.


What makes you feel safe with someone?

For each of us there will be certain things that make us feel safe.  We must discover what makes the other person in the relationship feel safe with us.  In doing this we create a relation where the trust between the two enables a belief in each other that the foremost thought is for the wellbeing of the other.  This is the basis of all the other work involved providing care.  We create a situation where the individual does not feel inferior, judged nor controlled by the person sharing their life with them.

The second step in this process is for the carer to see past presenting problems. We have to begin to see challenging behaviour as a form of communication that arises when an individual is unable to effectively communicate their feelings around a certain situation.  The carer sharing this experience would need to look for ways of meeting the need, solving the problem, in partnership with the individual where possible, rather than looking to eliminate the resulting behaviour.  This is quite a different focus for us as we can often be in situations that have a behaviour driven focus.  We adopt a medical philosophy and cure all attitudes where all we are presented with must be dealt with before we think about the inner person.

We do not look at the individual in holistic terms but segmented into departmentalised conditions where a specialised focus is required on an individual basis.  Yet the concept behind Gentle Teaching suggests that what we are presented with is only a symptom of underlying issues and addressing the behaviour is like administering painkillers without looking at what is causing the pain.  If the treatment continues in this fashion deterioration sets in internally but the pain is covered over.  What is required is an in-depth look at the cause of the behaviour, an x-ray or even scan if you like, of the structure that enables functioning to investigate what is creating the pressure on the life of the individual.


Think of a time when you have responded to the behaviour.  Compare the outcome of this situation with a time when your response was to the problem behind the behaviour. What difference did it make?

What Gentle Teaching tries to achieve is that posture of Solidarity as you approach any incident.  This is the key to enabling the young person to move away from the trigger to the behaviour with the help of a companion who almost escorts the young person back to that safe place.  How we approach the situation really does matter.  On the following page you will see different approaches used by people.  Gentle Teaching aims for the place of Solidarity which offers the young person the best opportunity to regain composure.



(S)mothering care



A need to care without being challenged.

Dependency is taught and maintained.

Charity not rights

Ownership not empowerment.

SOLIDARITY (the one to aim for)

Protecting without smothering.

Unconditional acceptance.

Tolerance and warmth.

Focus on sharing, and interdependence.

Clear message of safety, security and support are given.

Focus on effective communication.




Focus on the elimination of behaviours.

Focus on order and teaching rules.

The onus is on the individual to change and conform.



Disregarding humanity


Focus on compliance, lawfulness, orderliness

Focus on punishment and restraint techniques and strategies

Feelings and spirit described as stimuli and responses.


The aim of this is to establish the advantage of seeing past the presenting behaviour to enable continuity of care and personal growth for the individual receiving care using of our skills to help the individual to cope with the situation.

Here we find the root of the third step as identified by the Gentle Teaching Institute in the Netherlands.  You, as the care giver, will need to exercise all your skills when a situation arises in which the individual presents challenging behaviour.

Neil Thompson (2005) identifies specific skills required by social workers however; these skills are also a requirement of those working within social care.  The skills encompass a range of areas that may be consolidated into one event:

Communication skills

Reflection skills

Self-awareness skills


Analytical skills

Thinking on your feet

Handling feelings


Self-management skills


Presentation skills

Partnership skills

Co-ordination skills

Survival skills

Sensitivity and observation skills

(Thompson, 2005, P87 to 105)

Through adopting the right approach and using the correct skills you will find the development of a relationship that is not based on power, i.e. adult v child, but a companionship that allows the child to feel safe, engaged, loved and loving.



Special Connections Available online at: [Accessed 08/06/12]

Gentle Teaching Institute in the Netherlands. The Process of Gentle Teaching. Available online at [Accessed 08/06/12]

Gentle Teaching International, Gentle Teaching, Available online at l [Accessed 08/67/12]

Thompson, N., 2005, Understanding Social Work - Preparing for Practice. 2nd Edition. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan

Category: Social Care