What Is Gentle Discipline?

Use gentle discipline to teach your child how to manage his behavior.
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Gentle discipline is one of the five main types of discipline that is based on mutual respect between parents and kids. The basis for gentle discipline is that it focuses on using discipline and not punishment.

Similar to positive discipline, parents who use gentle discipline do not spank or use any forms of corporal punishment. They don’t shame or embarrass kids but instead, provide respectful negative consequences that deter future behavior.

Gentle Discipline Looks Long-Term

Gentle discipline doesn’t just focus on today’s behavior. Instead, it helps parents look at the long-term. Parents recognize skills that their children need and find discipline strategies that will accomplish their goals.

For example, if a child needs to learn responsibility, parents may offer more chores to ensure a child is gaining the skills he needs. Gentle discipline involves addressing skill deficits so kids can grow to become healthy, responsible adults.

Gentle Discipline Teaches Kids What to Do

Gentle discipline focuses on teaching kids the appropriate behavior. For example, a child who calls their brother names doesn’t just get a time-out. They are also taught to use their words in nice ways.

Gentle discipline teaches kids how to express their feelings in socially appropriate ways. Kids learn how to make healthy decisions on their own. 

Gentle Discipline Acknowledges Feelings

Gentle discipline also takes a child's feelings into consideration. If a child is upset, a parent wouldn't say, “Well, that’s life,” or “You shouldn’t be so upset about something so small.” Instead, parents using gentle discipline teach kids how to cope with those uncomfortable emotions. 

Parents talk to kids about their feelings and take them seriously. Kids feel validated when they see that adults take their feelings into consideration. When there’s a problem, they work on problem-solving together and kids are allowed to give input.

Gentle Discipline Emphasizes Safety

Parents who use gentle discipline emphasize physical and emotional safety. Kids are taught to evaluate risks and consider whether their choices are safe. If a child is about to make a poor choice, parents point out the potential consequences. 

Kids are also taught the underlying reasons for rules.

A parent might say, “We walk in parking lots because there are a lot of cars driving around that we need to be watching out for so we don’t get hit.” Parents who use gentle discipline don’t tell kids to do something "because I said so.”

Gentle Discipline Spells Out Expectations

Anything and everything can be used as a learning experience for kids. A trip to the grocery store, a ride in the car or playing a game can be used to teach kids a variety of skills.

Parents make the rules and expectations clear ahead of time. For example, before a trip to the hospital, a child may be told, “We're going to visit Aunt Sally at the hospital today. We'll need to use inside voices because people in the hospital don’t feel well and some of them will be sleeping. We also have to use walking feet and calm bodies.”

Kids are given opportunities to ask questions and are told the consequences if they break the rules.

When kids are aware of the rules ahead of time, it gives them a choice. They know what will happen if they behave and also what the negative consequences will be if they misbehave. When parents use gentle discipline they don’t try to force kids to do anything by sheer will and they avoid power struggles.

Gentle Discipline Uses Positive and Negative Consequences

Gentle discipline shouldn’t be confused with permissive parenting. Instead, parents offer effective consequences. But it's important to note that each consequence serves a specific purpose.

Consequences aren't given just because a parent is upset or frustrated. Instead, each disciplinary action serves as an opportunity for a child to learn.

With toddlers and younger children, redirection is a common discipline technique. Instead of yelling or sending a child to their room for repeatedly touching something they are not supposed to handle, a parent may get the child involved in a new activity to stop the behavior.

Logical consequences and natural consequences are often used to deter negative behavior from being repeated. Time-out may be used as a way to teach kids to take a break when they are angry or upset.

There are also positive consequences that reinforce good behavior. Reward systems are often used to encourage good behavior or to help kids work on a specific behavior problem. Praise and lots of positive attention are offered to reinforce good choices and good behavior as well.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Effective discipline for childrenPaediatr Child Health. 2004;9(1):37-50. doi:10.1093/pch/9.1.37

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.