What Is Gentle Parenting?

Gentle parenting has become a popular parenting style that guides children to build skills and grow with a calming, loving, and self-motivated approach. Gaining attention for a good reason, a gentle parenting approach seems to strike a perfect balance of healthy boundaries without being overly restrictive.

gentle parenting

The Gentle Parenting Approach

When it comes to parenting philosophies, there are so many opinions out there that it can be hard to hone in on a specific one, or what exactly is best.

When it comes to gentle discipline, do we use time-out, or not? It’s been shown spanking is harmful, but how do we deal with tantrums? What if you are triggered and get angry when parenting?

These are all great questions that can be handled with sensitivity and informed by a gentle parenting approach. Like attachment parenting, a gentle parenting approach is evidence-based and lets a child’s developmental phase and abilities guide your parenting decisions and boundary setting. 

Do you have to be perfect at gentle parenting for it to work? No, you don’t need to be perfect at anything, and that is part of being gentle with yourself as a parent. But, having a philosophy to guide you can help on this unknown road of raising kids. 

A developmental approach to parenting guidance hits the sweet spot between over-parenting and permissive parenting. A gentle parenting approach uses developmentally appropriate choices, healthy boundaries, and empathy to help your child make good choices, have autonomy, and emotionally regulate themselves throughout life. 

Being able to take an issue, address it calmly, and help your child with life skills while you’re at it is a parenting win in my book! We don’t have to be perfect parents, and teaching your kids that you are human and raising them with loving intentions will speak volumes to them throughout their lifetime. 

Is Gentle Parenting Effective?

Gentle parenting can be a very effective way to guide your kids through childhood while giving them autonomy. This results in secure, resilient, and confident children and adults. 

Gentle parenting techniques foster empathy, respect, communication, and healthy boundaries. The main intention is to create a working partnership between parent and child, where the child has personal choices. They will feel comfortable and safe but still have gently communicated parameters when conflicts arise. 

Gentle parenting helps children learn to regulate their own emotions, teaches parent-child communication, and self-motivation, and reduces conflict. 

First: Work on Yourself

It takes patience, and boundaries with your response to your children, and also recognizing your own emotional triggers. Yes, your children can trigger you! 

It’s important to do emotional work to process any traumas from your childhood to be able to fully understand why you might react the way you do to your kids’ behaviors that may feel difficult for you. Because let’s face it, parenting can be hard! 

What Gentle Parenting Is and Isn’t

Gentle parenting is most similar to the authoritative parenting style, with limits and boundaries, guidelines, and a high level of support and emotional responsiveness.

It isn’t permissive parenting which lacks boundaries and discipline yet responds emotionally. Permissive parenting puts too much emphasis on freedom but lacks responsibility and structure. 

Instead: A gentle parenting approach responds with intention, respect, empathy, and healthy boundaries. 

It isn’t authoritarian parenting that controls and expects behaviors that aren’t developmentally aligned with age or ability. It demands and uses external fears or rewards while lacking nurturing and responsiveness to needs.

Instead: Gentle parenting teaches life skills by giving kids autonomy to make their own choices while giving them limits and guidelines in which to choose.

It isn’t too soft, or being a friend to your child. It’s not parent-child enmeshment, or letting your child control everything. 

Instead: Gentle parenting is understanding that your child is a person, separate from you. They have an internal emotional world and motivators, just like adults. When it comes to safety, gentle parenting holds fast boundaries, while other times it allows safe, natural consequences be the teacher. 

How to Use Gentle Parenting Techniques

These techniques will vary based on your child’s age and developmental level, but responding to your child with calm and intention at any age can have a positive outcome. Typically, children who experience gentle parenting techniques are happy, regulated, and trust themselves.

A Safe Space for Emotions

Give your child a safe space for negative emotions. Calmly allow them to feel anger, sadness, or frustration while you support them. Name the feeling and comfort them, without trying to “fix” the feeling. Instead of “Stop crying!” say “I can see you’re very sad and frustrated. It’s ok to feel that way, and when you’re ready we can take some deep breaths together. I’m here.”

Correct the Action, Not the Child

Keep your behavior corrections about the action, not about who the child is. Instead of “You are mean, go to time out!” say “I don’t think your friend likes it when you do that. Let’s try another way and see if that is better for your friend.” Your child needs to know that everyone makes mistakes, even adults, it’s just part of life! Practicing recovery and trying again after a mistake is a wonderful lesson that will help them throughout life.

Model Self-Kindness

Talking out loud through your own self calming, and self-kindness when you are feeling stressed or negative emotions models to your child to learn how to cope and care for themselves. Instead of storming off in anger or yelling, say “Woo mommy is feeling really mad right now! I’m going to take a break in my room, take some deep breaths, and then take a shower so I can calm down and reset.”

Offer Safe Choices

Ask questions to give autonomy and choice. Instead of “Put your coat on!” say, “It’s really cold outside today, would you like to wear a coat?” For low-stakes choices like this, usually, a natural consequence of them being cold is one that will help them learn if they choose not to bring their coat!

Model Respect

Model respect by respecting your child, and setting clear boundaries so they know how to be respectful of you and others.

Instead of fear-based commands like “Do the dishes now or you’ll be grounded!” say “It looks like you’re feeling pretty upset that you have chores at the end of the day when you are tired, I totally understand. But, the dishes still need to be done. You can listen to music to calm down while you do them or take a 15-minute breather to wind down and then do them. When you wash the dishes, I’ll help you dry them.”

The 3 C’s of Gentle Parenting

The 3 C’s of gentle parenting are connection, communication, and consistency. So if you find yourself in a parenting pickle and don’t know what to do or say, try:

  1. Connect by getting to your child’s eye level.
  2. To communicate, approach the problem with curiosity, and ask questions.
  3. Be consistent with boundaries.

Books on Gentle Parenting

For more information to help you learn the best gentle parenting techniques, there are some great books out there to help. Try these recommendations to get started: 

Still have questions about gentle parenting or how it relates to other parenting styles? Start a conversation in the comments, and we’ll be sure to weigh in.

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