Parenting

What Is Gentle Parenting?

This article has been medically-reviewed by:

Gentle parenting is a parenting style that reflects four key elements: understanding, boundaries, respect, and empathy. This style also promotes a healthy relationship between parents and the child, while leaning away from strict rules and demands.

In this article, I’ll explain more about what gentle parenting is, the benefits, and misconceptions. I'll also discuss techniques that this style utilizes and the challenges that come with it.

What Is Gentle Parenting?

Gentle parenting (also known as authoritative parenting) focuses on parents building a relationship with the child and understanding their perspective and giving them choices. Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of “The Gentle Parenting Book,” coined the term for this parenting style.

Gentle parenting is much different than other parenting styles, such as authoritarian, where the style is strictly based on parental rules and punishments. The main tools used in gentle parenting are the three Cs: connection, communication, and consistency.

What the research says

Research has shown that gentle encouragement, as it’s oftentimes shown in gentle parenting, can reduce the risk of anxiety in children. Along with this, gentle parenting can regulate social interactions in shy toddlers.

The goal of gentle parenting is to not punish the child for their actions but to teach and help them understand how to behave more appropriately. To teach them, parents are setting an example for the child, so they could learn from them.

Research shows that imitation is an effective learning mechanism, especially when it comes to babies and toddlers, so demonstrating desirable behaviors and traits for your child can be a beneficial tool to use.

Research also shows that positive bonding relationships between children and parents lead to resilient, happy, and independent adults, which gentle parenting promotes, as well.

Characteristics of Gentle Parenting

Gentle parenting consists of the following characteristics: 

Respect

Gentle parents show respect for their children by listening to how they feel and considering their behaviors respectfully. In other parenting methods, parents are focused on their child respecting them, but it’s not always reciprocated toward the child.

For example, if your child is throwing a tantrum, instead of punishing them for their actions, you might ask about their feelings and explain to them how and why they can change their behavior in the future. 

Empathy

Empathy involves being aware of the child’s wants and needs. Gentle parents ask their children how they feel and why they feel that way. When a child is acting a certain way or experiencing certain feelings, there’s always a reason.

For example, if your child is angry, ask them why they feel angry. If they’re not old enough to identify where the anger is coming from, you can ask them about what happened before they felt this way.

Boundaries

Boundaries are important for children to know what’s expected from them. They also help children know the correct way to do things. For example, we brush our teeth because we want to have healthy teeth.

When children have set boundaries, they feel safe and secure. As your child gets older, these boundaries may change and your child will have more freedom that’s different from when they were younger. 

Understanding

Gentle parenting includes understanding the age-appropriate behaviors that occur at each point in their child’s life. For example, a two-year-old may throw a tantrum because it’s time to leave the playground. After all, they don’t understand that it’s bedtime soon. This behavior may be considered age-appropriate because their cognitive understanding is not developed yet.

This understanding is coupled with expectations, and gentle parenting embraces these reactions. They also give an age-appropriate reaction; such as talking to the child or picking the child up. 

How Is Gentle Parenting Different than Other Parenting Styles?

Some parenting styles are overly strict or too lax. Parents practice compassion, and empathy, and make an effort to understand their child, helping to foster positive traits in the child.

Tiger parenting

More rigid parenting styles such as Tiger parenting have been shown to promote negative feelings in children such as anxiety, depression, and poor performance in school. Tiger parenting promotes high expectations from a child, so they grow up to be high-performing and driven people. 

Permissive parenting

On the other hand, permissive parents have low expectations for their children, and oftentimes do not discipline them. Gentle parents practice age-appropriate discipline strategies, and actively look to understand their child’s emotions.

Attachment parenting

Attachment parenting focuses on a connection between the parent and child. This parenting style teaches a positive impact on your child’s health and future relationships by responding to their needs and by keeping them physically close.

Skin-to-skin contact is encouraged and parents see a child’s cry as a call for help rather than an attempt to manipulate them - attachment parents will oftentimes use a baby carrier instead of a stroller, for example.

While attachment parenting and gentle parenting are compatible with one another, they emphasize different characteristics and traits. 

Discipline in Gentle Parenting

In gentle parenting, discipline is much different than traditionally thought of. 

Gentle parenting does not promote unreasonable discipline and punishments. Instead, discipline is thought of as “internalized”, meaning the child behaves the correct way to earn a reward, and they don’t act on negative behaviors to avoid punishment. 

Challenges 

It can take some time to get used to gentle parenting, and this approach may not work for all kids. This parenting style requires a lot of listening and intentional actions. It takes empathy and understanding of your child for them to see you as a role model. In gentle parenting, it’s important to take some to curate responses to your child’s behaviors, and not just react based on how you’re feeling. 

For example, when your child isn’t listening to you, your first instinct might be to lose your patience and yell at them. However, in gentle parenting, you’d talk to your child to understand how they are feeling and what the solution is.

Some people also note that gentle parenting does not offer enough discipline for the child. This method is also time-consuming, compared to other parenting styles. 

Takeaway 

Gentle parenting is an effective parenting technique when done correctly. While it takes a lot of patience and self-control from the parent, it can create a strong bond between the parent and child. Every parent is different, so it’s important to follow the style that is right for you.