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Gentle Parenting Explained: Pros, Cons, and How to Get Started Today

It’s true—kids don’t come with instruction manuals. Still, the concept of gentle parenting is about as close as you’ll come to a guideline for raising well-behaved kids with empathy and respect.

Contents:

What is Gentle Parenting?

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Gentle parenting is a philosophy of child-rearing based on compassion, understanding, and reason.

It’s not a prescription for raising successful children. Instead, it’s a set of principles that can be modified and adjusted to fit your family’s needs.

What Gentle Parenting is Not

Like most parenting techniques, the gentle parenting style of raising kids is often misunderstood. Some critics think it’s tantamount to parenting without discipline.

Of course, this simply isn’t true. This misconception regarding gentle parenting may be rooted in the positive nature of the techniques used by gentle parents.

Gentle parenting is not permissive parenting

Still, positive discipline is discipline nonetheless. Parents who worry that their children will run amok under the gentle parenting approach have little to worry about.

Gentle parents set clear boundaries, and children aren’t left unsupervised or without behavioral guidance.

Gentle parenting is not authoritarian parenting

Gentle parenting is also not traditional authoritarian parenting, meaning the mom or dad is the boss and the child is expected to do as they’re told. This parenting style often causes a problem as kids sometimes feel powerless and dismissed. As a result, many rebel or worse, fail to learn independence as they mature into adults.

Pros of Gentle Parenting

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The gentle parenting method is trending right now. If you’re on Tik Tok or other social media platforms, you’ve no doubt been exposed to this parenting concept. There’s a reason it’s going viral. Gentle parenting has many benefits that we don’t see with other parenting approaches.

Positive Relationships

Kids raised by gentle parents develop healthy, strong relationships with their moms and dads. These are bonds we don’t see with other parenting approaches such as tiger parenting or even purely authoritarian parenting.

Under these methods, children sometimes resent their parents or distrust them to do what’s best for them. They may think their parents are mean or unsupportive. Poor relationships with parents could negatively affect these kids later in life.

Gentle parenting means parents and kids work as a team

With gentle parenting, relationships are built through empathy, respect, and understanding. Children are treated as team members in their own growth and development.

Instead of bossing kids around, parents gently lend a helping hand when needed and share their wisdom and experience with their children.

In turn, kids with gentle parents feel confident in sharing their ideas and concerns with their parents.

Gentle parenting helps parents grow too

problems with gentle parenting

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Most parenting techniques today focus on the children. This is logical, of course. These well-intended methods often ignore the very real needs of moms and dads, though. After all, parents are humans too, and we weren’t all raised in the healthiest environments. The truth is that we each have our own issues we’re working through, and we’re not done growing either!

Gentle parenting makes space for parents to honor their own feelings and needs alongside their child’s.

Unlike other, more rigid parenting styles, gentle parenting allows moms and dads to make mistakes and admit them!

It gives parents permission to take much-needed “me time” to decompress and return to their parenting duties refreshed and recharged.

Gentle parenting promotes calm

Contrary to what critics of gentle parenting may believe, the approach actually promotes calm within a family and household. Children of gentle parents don’t “run wild” or “rule the roost” as naysayers claim. Instead, they follow routines, learn to regulate their emotions, and accomplish age-appropriate tasks independently.

Gentle parenting also requires parents to adopt a calm and mindful attitude. It holds moms and dads accountable for their own behaviors. And it warns against reactive parenting like yelling or shaming, for instance, which can often harm a child emotionally.

Is Gentle Parenting Effective?

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Gentle parenting sounds good, doesn’t it? Despite a few criticisms, it’s hard to argue with a parenting method that’s built on such sound principles as empathy and respect. The real question is—does it work? Of course, the answer is complicated.

Gentle parenting doesn’t focus on short-term results

In today’s fast-paced society, we all want quick fixes. Parents are no exception. If your kid is acting up, or you feel unsatisfied with your parenting, it’s likely you’re looking for instant relief.

Gentle parenting is a long-term solution, though. It doesn’t promise that your toddler will stop throwing tantrums overnight or that your tween will start keeping a tidier room ASAP. Instead, it provides hope that over time, your family dynamics will improve and your child will be healthier and happier.

Gentle parenting works… in the long run

You may not see the effects right away. Gentle parenting is an ideal ethos for parents who view raising a child as a marathon, not a sprint. These parents understand that coaching a child into adulthood takes years of patience and persistence.

Just as runners train tirelessly for their upcoming marathon, gentle parents practice daily for the moment when they send their children out into the world. They know that struggles are part of the task, and small setbacks don’t keep them down.

The Downsides of Gentle Parenting

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There are a lot of good things to say about the gentle parenting technique. It’s flexible, easy to understand, and rooted in universal values. When it comes to implementing the method, though, things can get tricky. Here are a few negative downsides you can expect to encounter:

It Demands A lot of Parents

Many widely-accepted child-rearing methods are wholly dependent on how a child behaves. These techniques provide clear answers for how a parent should respond to any misbehavior.

For example, when a toddler pitches a fit, he or she is sent directly to time out. These methods are intended to make things easy on parents while kids do the heavy lifting.

With gentle parenting, the opposite is true. Moms and dads are asked to put in the work day in and day out to practice mindful, non reactive parenting. That’s not to say that kids aren’t working at it, though. Growing up is hard. And remember, it takes a team!

You Have to Work at It

Like anything worth doing, raising kids with a gentle parenting approach requires a lot of hard work.

Plus, a good portion of this work is internal, requiring moms and dads to be mindful and reflective about their own beliefs and behaviors.

Gentle parents must ask themselves what they can do to improve their children’s behavior and overall development instead of just placing demands on their kids. They must be transparent with themselves about their shortcomings and look for ways to continually become better in the role of parent.

Some parents may find themselves more prepared for this work than others. If you weren’t raised in a healthy or supportive environment as a child, you may find yourself struggling.

In this case, you could end up parenting yourself along with your child as you grow in mindfulness together! This will be a case of double duty for you, but it will yield long-term benefits for your family.

You Might Get Criticized

New parenting approaches are always controversial. Perhaps that’s because accepting a new method implies that we’ve been doing it wrong all along! Thus, you’ll need to be prepared to face criticism as you adopt gentle parenting techniques.
You may find that this criticism could come from strangers, friends, or even family members. Try not to let the negativity get to you.

Remember, parenting style is a personal choice. At the end of the day, moms and dads must do what’s best for their own families.

Successful Gentle Parents Don’t Give Up

There’s no evidence to suggest that gentle parenting doesn’t work. Some parents have been known to give up on it, though. Perhaps that’s because it takes an emotional toll on many moms and dads as they become more self-reflective.

This method of parenting also requires a great deal of patience and self-control. These are qualities that are notoriously hard to master. When the going gets tough, just remember that the only way to fail at gentle parenting is to stop trying.

Gentle Parenting Versus Attachment and Mainstream Parenting

why gentle parenting doesn't work

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Are gentle parenting and attachment parenting the same? This is a common question parents have when considering gentle parenting. The short answer is “no.” Even so, the two parenting styles do overlap in some key areas.

For instance, both parenting approaches emphasize a child’s bond with the parent. As the name implies, though, attachment parenting may place an even stronger focus on this aspect of child-rearing.

Gentle parenting has also been compared to mainstream parenting because of its focus on boundaries and discipline. The main difference between these two parenting approaches is the way discipline is handled. While mainstream parenting focuses on external punishments and rewards, gentle parenting emphasizes natural consequences.

How to Practice Gentle Parenting?

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Practicing gentle parenting doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. Use these tips and strategies to get your foothold.

Communicate

Focus on communicating with your child at an age-appropriate level. Remember that communication is not only verbal. Your body language and facial expressions communicate things to your children as well. Ask yourself what they’re saying and whether these are the messages you want to send.

Of course, communication is a two-way street. Gentle parenting requires listening as well as talking. Consider all of your child’s behaviors as ways of communicating. Then ask yourself, “What is my child trying to tell me?”

Connect

Gentle parenting honors the connection between parent and child. It approaches discipline in a way that preserves the parent-child relationship while also setting appropriate limits and boundaries.

To implement the gentle parenting approach, you’ll want to be mindful of how you speak to your child. This includes not just words, but also tone of voice and body language.

Instead of lashing out at your little one out of anger, take a moment to calm your emotions before responding. This technique will allow you to approach the situation in a loving way that doesn’t harm your relationship or your child’s self-esteem.

How to Transition to Gentle Parenting?

problems with gentle parenting

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Gentle parenting is for children of all ages. While this is an approach that can be implemented from birth, it doesn’t have to be. Even if you’ve been relying on mainstream parenting methods, it’s still possible to adopt the gentle parenting method.

Children can benefit from this parenting style no matter their age.

It’s also possible to begin using the gentle parenting approach, even if you’re not an expert. Here are a few tips and techniques to get you started:

Make Requests, Not Commands

The gentle parenting style relies on your child’s compliance. It assumes that if you make reasonable requests, your child will agree to them. Try it out. Instead of giving a command like “Go clean your room,” try giving a suggestion instead. This might sound like “Why don’t we tidy up a bit so things are nice and clean?” If you’re used to the authoritarian style of parenting, you might be pleasantly surprised at what your child can accomplish with just a gentle nudge.

Focus on the Positive

Of course, there will be times when even gentle parents must set boundaries. This is to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of your little one. Even then, though, you can give things a positive spin. For example, instead of telling your child “Don’t stand on the furniture,” you could focus on the desired action instead. Try saying something like “Let’s put our feet on the ground where they belong.”

Avoid Labeling

Gentle parents preserve the connection and relationship with their children above all else. They also revere their children as precious humans that want to do good when given the chance. Of course, gentle moms and dads also understand that kids, like all human beings, make mistakes. They do not, however, use these mistakes as opportunities to label children as “naughty,” “mean,” or “bad.” Instead of labeling their kids, they emphasize behaviors. If a child is breaking a house rule, for instance, the gentle parent might comment “I don’t think your siblings like it when you leave your toys out for them to trip over.” By focusing on the behavior and not the child, self-esteem is preserved.

You can expect a transition period as you start implementing gentle parenting techniques.

Depending on the age of your children, you may want to explain the transition to them so that they’ll know what to expect. Ask them to be patient with you as you learn more about gentle parenting together. Make sure they know that the new parenting style is intended to help them be healthier and happier.

Gentle Parenting Books

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Of course, as you begin to adopt this parenting style into your day-to-day routine, you’ll naturally want to learn more. Here are some book recommendations to get you started:

  1. The Gentle Parenting Book: How to Raise Calmer, Happier Children from Birth to Seven by Sarah Ockwell-Smith.
    If you’re new to gentle parenting, start here. It’s like the bible for newcomers!
  2. The Gentle Parenting: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R. Knost.
    Don’t miss this short handbook packed with tips and techniques!
  3. Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn.
    This one contains lots of good research-backed materials for parents on the fence.

Change Your Parenting Style—Change the World?

There’s a lot of hype right now surrounding gentle parenting. Some advocates argue it could change the world for the better. How? By creating a community of calmer, healthier, and happier people one kid at a time. Whether it proves to be a game-changer for society or not, it can certainly improve your family.

What are your thoughts on gentle parenting? Let us know, and share this article with other parents who may be interested in this trending parenting style.

The picture on the front page: Shurkin_son/Shutterstock.com

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