Gentle Parenting May Be Hard at First, But It Encourages a Strong Parent-Child Bond (2024)

  • Gentle parenting relies on empathy and setting boundaries.
  • This parenting style discourages yelling by focusing on calm communication.
  • Modeling desired behaviors is essential for gentle parents.
  • According to adherents of this parenting philosophy, there is a difference between being in charge of your child and raising your child.

In the world of parenting styles, gentle parenting may sound similar to permissive parenting, but in some ways they're actually on opposite ends of the parenting spectrum. With permissive parenting, children are generally allowed to do as they like with few limits. Permissive parent, also known as indulgent parenting, moves most of the decision-making power from the parent to the child. Gentle parenting, however, is about making an active effort to understand the child's feelings and behavior while maintaining boundaries using empathy and respect.

What is gentle parenting?

“If you think your role as a parent is to be an authority figure in your child's life, gentle parenting may not be an approach for you,” says Tasha Brown, licensed psychologist and parenting consultant. She points out that the gentle parenting approach also isn’t about fully directing the child. Instead, gentle parenting is a collaborative effort in which the parent guides the child by engaging with them.

It’s recognizing that behavior is a form of communication and validating any associated feelings, says Chelsea Elliott, social worker, parent coach and owner of Sōmōcom Lab. Kids have big feelings, and gentle parenting encourages you empathize with those feelings, help them calm down if needed, then continue a conversation about how they felt and why they behaved in a certain way, she adds.

How is discipline handled in gentle parenting?

One of the biggest misconceptions of gentle parenting is that there are no consequences for unfavorable behavior. According to experts, it’s quite the opposite.

There’s a big different between "no discipline” and “no punishment," Brown says. Gentle parenting relies on enforcing boundaries through collaborative discussion and natural consequences.

For a gentle parent, discipline is more about teaching children through consequences directly related to their misbehavior so they understand what they did was wrong, Elliott says. For example, the natural consequence for refusing to brush teeth is a day filled with bad breath (and, later, possibly cavities).

In contrast, in other parenting styles, punishments are imposed by parents to modify their children's behavior, and are not always a direct result of the transgression (like taking screen time away because a kid talked back).

Because parents are not the authority in the relationship, yelling is not the preferred method in gentle parenting. According to Dan Peters, a psychologist, author, parenting expert who goes by Dr. Dan, we need to remain calm so our kids can learn to remain calm. “We have three kids who are close in age so there can be a lot of bickering," he says. "One day, the older sibling was yelling at a younger sibling so my wife or I yelled at her to stop. [Our daughter] turned to us and said, ‘Why are you yelling at me to stop yelling at them?’ She had a point.”

Examples of gentle parenting boundaries and consequences

  • A middle school student has allotted time on the iPad but extends that time limit without permission. Instead of grounding them, their parent asks what the child thinks the allotted time frame should be and why. Together, they discuss a duration that makes sense.
  • A teen continuously has friends over for a sleepover. The parents discuss why repeated sleepovers can be problematic, pointing out natural consequences like being tired all day in school or not having time to complete assignments. The family then decides to pause sleepovers going forward so they can regroup and determine a set of guidelines for when and how often overnights can take place.
  • In a scenario in which a teen driver has the car out too late, the natural consequence would be that they don't get to drive the car, Elliot says. "The discipline is the conversation about needing to rebuild that trust, needing to take away keys and reinforcing the idea of being safe when out," she says. "Punishment would be saying they can’t watch tv for the next week, which has no correlation between having the car out too late.”
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Is gentle parenting the same as RIE parenting?

While gentle parenting and "Resources for Infant Educarers” or RIE (pronounced "rye") parenting have much in common, RIE parenting is a very specific parenting philosophy started by Magda Gerber. It focuses on principles like using authentic communication, giving kids the chance to actively participate in caregiving, encouraging self-directed play and expressing emotions, letting kids develop skills naturally, fostering intrinsic motivation, allowing kids to problem-solve and modeling behavior, writes RIE proponent Janet Lansbury. Some parents attend RIE classes to best learn how to put these principles in action.

In gentle parenting, the parent-child relationship is filled with trust.

One of the biggest elements of gentle parenting is the focus on the parent-child relationship. When the parent and child relationship is strong, inside or outside of gentle parenting, children reap the benefits, Brown says. “It helps improve their social skills and self-esteem, and shows them how to interact with others in effective ways based on their parents' modeling of that behavior.”

Compared to gentle parenting, what's missing in other parenting styles is the critical importance of parents regulating their own emotions and behavior. Toys such as self-regulating rocks and books such as Big Feelings can also be helpful in children learning to identify and work through various emotions.

Gentle parenting can take a lot of work.

Because this style focuses on self-awareness, discipline and the ability to be proactive rather than reactive, a con of gentle parenting is that it can prove to be challenging for parents. In gentle parenting, the parent is expected to practice patience and model the ideal methods of regulation and communication. It’s something many parents are still learning about themselves.

As such, it leads to many parents experiencing guilt when they find they weren’t “as gentle as they’d like," Brown says.

Furthermore, some parents are left feeling unequipped to deal with some behaviors, “You can empathize from sun-up to sun-down, which is very draining for parents, and your toddler is still gonna have a tantrum," says Emily Edlynn, a clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming Autonomy-Supportive Parenting Reduce Parental Burnout and Raise Competent, Confident Children.

“I worry that what parents take away is that any difficulty in an interaction or behavior is a reflection on their parenting even though kids will have bad days regardless," she says. "So the parents get stressed out, which lends to their guilt and shame.” That stress and potential projection of it can interfere with a building a close relationship to their children.

How should parents handle the situation if they do blow up?

Generally speaking, gentle parenting discourages yelling. Instead, it relies on open communication and a firm voice when necessary. Still, there may be situations in which a parent may lose their cool.

We are human, so we’re going to get angry and may lash out, Dr. Dan acknowledges. When that happens, gentle parents will demonstrate how to repair relationships by “owning” the mistake. “Start by apologizing and say something like, ‘You know what, I need to apologize for yelling. I was really upset. I didn't mean to do that. I know that's not effective or helpful. I'm going to work on trying to remain calm when I talk to you, even if I'm feeling upset about a situation,'” he says.

People lose patience and the goal of gentle parenting is for parents to acknowledge it and ask themselves how they can calm themselves down and recommit to parenting in an empathetic way.

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Terri Huggins Hart

Terri Huggins Hart is an award-winning journalist, lifestyle writer, parenting writer, and race and culture writer who is convinced she's figured out the trick to living life with no regrets: do what you love, give love, lead with love. She's also the writer of an active monthly newsletter sharing tips for motivation and emotional well-being. When not writing, she can be found working out via Zumba or pole dancing, reciting her favorite affirmations and covering her adorable kids in kisses. You can learn more about Terri on her website, TerrificWords.com, or following her on social media @terrificwords.

Gentle Parenting May Be Hard at First, But It Encourages a Strong Parent-Child Bond (2024)

FAQs

Gentle Parenting May Be Hard at First, But It Encourages a Strong Parent-Child Bond? ›

By focusing on empathy, respect, and connection, gentle parenting fosters a strong, trusting bond between parents and children. This secure attachment lays the foundation for healthy emotional development, effective communication, and a sense of safety and belonging.

How does gentle parenting affect the parent? ›

Research suggests that gentle parenting may reduce the risk for anxiety. In fact, one study found that this approach "may promote regulated responses in social contexts" in shy toddlers. Improved parent-child bond. Another study found that gentle parenting may improve the relationship between parents and children.

What is the concept of gentle parenting? ›

Gentle parenting is a parenting approach that encourages a partnership between you and your child to make choices based on an internal willingness instead of external pressures.

What do experts say about gentle parenting? ›

Gentle parenting is focused on empathy, respect, understanding, and healthy boundaries. Pediatricians and child psychologists believe that this approach has a positive impact on the child. However, this style does not work for everyone.

What can a parent do to form a strong bond with their child? ›

Connection starts with listening. Acknowledge your child's feelings, show them you understand, and reassure them that you are there to help with whatever they need. Try to see things from your child's perspective. By listening and empathizing with your child, you will begin to foster mutual respect.

What are the downsides of gentle parenting? ›

One of the main drawbacks of gentle parenting is that it is a very intense and time-consuming method of training up your children. It is difficult to implement well if you only have two hours a day with your child as you need to be very hands-on, redirecting your child when needed and working alongside them.

What are the three C's of gentle parenting? ›

The tools of gentle parenting are connection, communication, and consistency. Ask any parent who follows this style and they'll tell you to add a good measure of patience to these three Cs to keep things running smoothly.

How successful is gentle parenting? ›

Children who are exposed to gentle parenting are less likely to have anxiety or low confidence and are less likely suffer from substance abuse, Ockwell-Smith said. She has also found that it's easier to parent teens with this method, because they have learned over the years to respect and regulate their emotions.

What are benefits of gentle parenting? ›

Benefits of Gentle Parenting. Gentle parenting provides the space for children to see how their behaviors impact others, how others react, and how they can react. This approach benefits parents and children as it supports working and growing together.

Why gentle parenting doesn't always work? ›

Confused and stressed children will communicate these feelings with their behavior. This behavior will typically lead these parents to declare that Gentle Parenting doesn't work. Children thrive on routine and predictability, and need clear guidelines to feel safe and secure.

What are examples of gentle parenting? ›

For example, comforting your crying baby rather than getting upset with them may seem obvious, but in terms of gentle parenting, it also means you're teaching your child empathy from an early age. Gentle parents are, above all, understanding of their children.

What is another name for gentle parenting? ›

Gentle parenting, sometimes called positive parenting, is a parenting style that relies on parents showing empathy, having respect for kids as people, and being understanding. The term gentle parenting was coined by British author Sarah Ockwell Smith in the 2010s, and it has exploded on TikTok in the past few years.

Does gentle parenting have consequences? ›

In gentle parenting, consequences are not used as a form of punishment, but rather as an opportunity for learning. Consequences that are rooted in empathy and respect can help children understand the impact of their actions and develop a sense of accountability for their behavior.

How does parenting styles affect a person? ›

Parenting styles have been found to impact everything from self-esteem to physical health to academic performance. Adults who were raised by parents who adopted a healthy parenting style tend to have a more secure attachment style, while displaying better social skills and less likelihood of mental illness.

How do gentle parents punish? ›

Natural consequences is the closest thing Gentle Parenting has to punishments, and when you get the hang of it you will see how effective they are. It's basically allowing the natural consequence of your child's actions to teach them the lesson, instead of creating a punishment to teach the lesson.

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