What Is Gentle Parenting?

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What Is Gentle Parenting?

Gentle parenting is an evidence-based approach to raising happy, confident children. This parenting style is composed of four main elements: empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.

Gentle parenting focuses on fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries. Unlike some more lenient parenting methods, gentle parenting also encourages discipline, but in an age-appropriate way. Discipline methods focus on teaching valuable life lessons rather than focusing on punishments.

Those who practice gentle parenting encourage working together as a family to teach their children to express their feelings, but in a socially acceptable, age-appropriate manner. Gentle parenting is viewed as a beneficial method for raising happy, independent, and confident children.

Benefits of Gentle Parenting

Gentle parenting focuses on a child's cognitive state to establish certain guidelines and boundaries that are age-appropriate and beneficial to their development. Because this approach to parenting is meant to foster positive traits in children, gentle parents model their own behavior around their children based on what they expect to see from them.

Allison Andrews, PsyD

When we are gentle to our children, we model and help create the inner voice that will accompany them through their lives.

— Allison Andrews, PsyD

Research suggests that gentle encouragement also may reduce the risk for anxiety. In fact, one study found that gentle parenting "may promote regulated responses in social contexts in shy toddlers." 

While gentle parents discipline their children, the goal is to teach the child rather than punish them for their behavior. These actions help children better understand how they should behave while not exposing them to less favorable ways of speaking and acting.

"When we show gentleness, especially during stressful times, we model frustration tolerance, and we model flexibility. Staying calm and being gentle and firm sets the tone for positive growth and development," says Allison Andrews, PsyD, practice owner and primary clinician at Child Development Partners in Boston, MA.

What Sets Gentle Parenting Apart From Other Methods?

Unlike overly rigid or lax parenting styles, gentle parenting seems to have very few drawbacks and rarely has a negative impact on children's mental health. Instead, the compassionate, understanding elements of gentle parenting foster positive traits that help kids develop socially while also establishing appropriate guidelines to encourage positive behavior.

Meanwhile, those who practice more rigid parenting styles, such as tiger parenting, may view gentle parenting as too lenient. Tiger parenting is a strict parenting style that focuses on raising driven, high-achieving kids. As a result, tiger parents often require their kids to practice skills or study for lengthy periods of time often at the expense of leisurely activities like playdates, sleepovers, and other fun activities.

Children of tiger parents have been shown to suffer negative consequences due to the high expectations they are expected to meet. These consequences include anxiety, depression, and poor academic performance.

However, it's important to note gentle parenting is different from permissive parenting, which is classified as having low expectations of a child. Permissive parents often opt out of disciplining a child altogether, while gentle parents discipline using age-appropriate tactics.

Even though permissive parents sometimes have a more positive bond with their children, they often struggle with situations that require rule-following and structure. Gentle parenting strikes a balance between tiger parenting and permissive parenting style, offering guidance and support while also clearly defining boundaries.

How to Practice Gentle Parenting

If you're interested in the gentle parenting approach, you may be wondering where to begin. Fortunately, it's quite simple to apply the ethos of gentle parenting to your daily life, and it all starts with respecting your child's feelings and development.

Babies and toddlers can be trying, with their inability to regulate their emotions and behavior, making it seemingly impossible to create any structure. By recognizing why they are behaving a certain way, you can tailor your response to your child accordingly, keeping in mind their cognitive ability to understand your reaction.

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.

Most often, this means adjusting their expectations of how they think children should behave to reflect a more realistic standard. For example, while it may be frustrating that a toddler doesn't sleep through the night, gentle parents understand that they are not acting naughty. By comforting instead of punishing the child, the parent models empathy, which is a positive trait they want to enforce.

That said, rules and boundaries are important aspects of gentle parenting. By establishing clear guidelines about what is and is not appropriate, children have the consistent structure they require. This means a child will feel assured enough to explore new environments while also knowing they're being protected. In the end, this encourages confidence.

With older children, keep their age in mind before reacting to their behavior. Doing so will help you better understand their mindset to help them through their feelings in an appropriate way.

Potential Challenges

As is the case with any parenting style, gentle parenting methods do pose potential challenges. Unlike permissive parenting, gentle parenting is not based on a lack of discipline for children, which is sometimes misinterpreted. Instead, gentle parenting means understanding a child's feelings at the moment and responding accordingly in a way that is beneficial to the child's emotional well-being.

It can be challenging for parents who are new to this method to implement it effectively because gentle parenting requires patience and empathy. Ask yourself whether you're truly able to step back and practice self-control instead of responding reactively to your child's behavior. As with any parenting method, consistency is key in gentle parenting's success.

A Word From Verywell

Each family benefits from different methods of parenting. Still, gentle parenting has been recognized as one of the ideal styles for fostering a positive relationship with your children while still enforcing boundaries.

To get in the mindset to begin gentle parenting, bear in mind that the goals of this method may not come to fruition immediately. The idea of molding your child into someone with positive traits is a continual process, and you may not see the results of gentle parenting overnight. However, remember the goal is to set your child up with the tools to succeed through gentle guidance and compassion.

At the end of the day, children will behave age-appropriately. The reward of gentle parenting comes later on when you see your children applying the attributes you've modeled for them throughout their upbringing on their own as they grow older.

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3 Sources
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. Grady JS. Parental gentle encouragement promotes shy toddlers' regulation in social contexts. J Exp Child Psychol. 2019 Oct;186:83-98. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2019.05.008. PMID:31203109.

  2. Augustine ME, Stifter CA. Temperament, parenting, and moral development: specificity of behavior and contextSoc Dev. 2015;24(2):285-303. doi:10.1111/sode.12092

  3. Kim SY, Wang Y, Orozco-Lapray D, Shen Y, Murtuza M. Does “tiger parenting” exist? Parenting profiles of Chinese Americans and adolescent developmental outcomesAsian American Journal of Psychology. 2013;4(1):7-18. doi:10.1037/a0030612

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