Unleashing the Power of Gentle Parenting (& 3 Examples)

Gentle parentingParenting is a beautiful, deeply rewarding, but also often a confusing and overwhelming journey.

We all want to raise happy and well-adjusted children. However, the constant barrage of advice promoting conflicting and ever-changing parenting styles can leave us feeling lost.

The notion of “gentle parenting” has been attracting much attention in recent years. It is an approach that prioritizes connection, empathy, respect, and positive discipline to nurture strong emotional intelligence and social skills in children.

In this article, we explore the core principles of gentle parenting, look at myths about it, and offer practical tips for implementing gentle-parenting techniques in your daily life.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Parenting Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients identify opportunities to implement positive parenting practices and support healthy child development.

What Is Gentle Parenting?

Gentle parenting is an approach to raising children that prioritizes connection, empathy, respect, validation, and positive discipline. It emphasizes the importance of fostering a safe, nurturing environment that meets children’s emotional needs while also providing clear and consistent boundaries.

Drawing inspiration from positive psychology principles, gentle parenting seeks to cultivate strong emotional intelligence and powerful social skills in children. Unlike traditional parenting methods, which rely on rewards, incentives, and punishments, gentle parenting seeks to address the root cause of misbehavior by helping children develop their self-regulation skills and understand the impact and consequences of their actions.

For several years, gentle parenting has been popular on social media. Some famous proponents of gentle parenting include Becky Kennedy, the author of the popular Good Inside parenting manual, as well as Sarah Ockwell-Smith, the author of a range of best-selling parenting books.

Some key characteristics of gentle parenting include the following.

Empathy and validation

Gentle parenting means acknowledging and validating our child’s feelings, even negative ones. This helps them feel understood and supported and fosters a secure attachment bond (Bowlby, 1982; Sanders & Mazzuchelli, 2017).

Positive discipline

Gentle parenting utilizes positive discipline techniques that focus on encouragement, problem-solving, positive reinforcement, and teaching children valuable life skills (Nelsen, 2012; Eanes, 2012).

Clear boundaries with choices

Gentle parenting does not equate to permissiveness. It involves setting clear and consistent boundaries while offering children age-appropriate choices within those boundaries. This fosters a sense of autonomy and helps children learn to make responsible decisions (Grady, 2019).

Focus on connection

Building a strong and positive connection with our children is the foundation of gentle parenting. This connection allows for open communication, fosters trust, and provides a safe space for children to express their emotions (Siegel & Bryson, 2011; Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022).

Gentle Parenting - Heng Serey Roth

3 Common Misconceptions

There are several misconceptions surrounding gentle parenting. Three of the most persistent myths include the following.

Myth #1: Gentle parenting is a permissive, laissez-faire style parenting

Gentle parenting is not about letting children do whatever they want, whenever they want it.

Rather, it is about setting clear boundaries with empathy and providing positive guidance. It also entails providing clear explanations for certain rules so that children understand not just what is expected, but also why it is expected (Markham, 2012).

Myth #2: It doesn’t work for strong-willed children

Gentle parenting is, in fact, also effective for strong-willed children. By connecting with their emotions and offering choices, we can help them learn to recognize, understand, and manage their strong feelings in a healthy way.

Myth #3: It requires all sunshine and rainbows

Parenting is hard, and even the most patient and gentle parents will experience many moments of frustration and confusion. Gentle parenting is about fostering a strong connection that allows us to navigate those challenging moments more effectively.

However, it is important to acknowledge that gentle parenting is only one parenting style among many others. Authoritative parenting, for example, has also been proven to be highly effective, and research has shown that it has various benefits for children (Mattanah, 2005; Chou et al., 2019; and Hayek et al., 2022).

Recently, there has also been criticism of gentle parenting. Annie Pezalla (2023) shares some preliminary research related to gentle parenting. In a soon-to-be published study, Pezalla and her colleague Alice Davidson found that gentle parenting can take its toll on parents, often leaving them confused and emotionally exhausted.

In the study, Pezalla and Davidson also found that many of those who choose gentle parenting styles are reacting to their own, stricter upbringing, seeking to do the exact opposite of what their own parents did.

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These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients with tools to improve parenting styles and support healthy child development.

3 Examples of Gentle Parenting in Real Life

The following everyday scenarios illustrate how you might implement gentle parenting into your life.

Tantrum in the grocery store

Instead of yelling or resorting to threats, get down to your child’s eye level. First, acknowledge and validate their feelings: “I see you’re really upset because you really wanted that candy. That candy bar does indeed look delicious.”

Then, offer them an explanation why the candy can’t be bought and suggest alternative choices: “Unfortunately, this candy bar is full of bad stuff and a lot of sugar, which would not be good for you. Would you like to pick an apple or a banana instead?”

Sibling rivalry

Help your children learn communication skills by facilitating a conversation about their feelings. Again, start by validating their emotions: “It makes sense that you’re upset that your brother took your toy,” or “I understand why it is hard and feels sad for you that we now have to spend a lot of time with your new sister, too.” And then you can guide them toward collaborative, creative problem-solving.

Bedtime battles

Establish a calming bedtime routine that allows your child to wind down: “I understand that you don’t want this great day to end quite yet and that you would love to keep on playing all night. But if you do that, you will be really tired and grumpy tomorrow.”

Give them choices within boundaries: “Do you want to read two books or one tonight?” Also, validate their need for comfort: “I know you might be feeling scared of the dark. I used to feel like that as well when I was your age. I’m here for you if you need me.”

3 Gentle Parenting Techniques & Components

Gentle parenting techniquesGentle parenting incorporates elements of several other positive parenting philosophies, including positive discipline, attachment parenting, and Montessori pedagogy.

These are all distinctive parenting styles in their own right and are not identical to gentle parenting. However, gentle parenting is an eclectic practice that draws on other schools.

Positive discipline

Developed by Jane Nelsen (2012), positive discipline strategies focus on encouragement, rapport, problem-solving, and teaching children valuable life skills.

Here are some strategies for implementing positive discipline as a parent (Nelsen, 2012):

  1. Set clear expectations.
    Clearly communicate your expectations for behavior with your child. Make sure they understand what is acceptable and what is not.
  2. Use positive reinforcement.
    Praise and reward your child when they exhibit desirable behaviors. This can be verbal praise, hugs, stickers, or other rewards that your child values.
  3. Provide logical consequences.
    When your child misbehaves, implement consequences that are logical and related to the behavior. For example, if they don’t clean up their toys, they lose the privilege of playing with them.
  4. Model good behavior.
    Children learn by example, so be a positive role model. Show the behaviors you want to see by demonstrating kindness, empathy, and patience.
  5. Encourage problem-solving.
    Involve them in problem-solving discussions. Help them think through the consequences of their actions and come up with solutions to resolve conflicts.
  6. Use time-in, not time-out.
    Instead of isolating your child in time-out, use time-in by sitting with them and discussing their behavior.
  7. Stay calm.
    It is important to remain calm and composed when addressing your child’s behavior. Yelling or becoming angry can hinder effective communication.
  8. Offer choices.
    Give your child choices whenever possible to empower them and encourage autonomy. Instead of demanding they eat their vegetables, ask if they would like carrots or broccoli.
  9. Be consistent.
    Consistency is key to positive discipline. Make sure you enforce rules and consequences consistently so your child knows what to expect.
  10. Practice active listening.
    Take the time to listen to your child’s perspective and feelings. Validate their emotions and show empathy, even if you do not agree with their behavior.

By implementing these strategies, you can promote a positive and respectful relationship with your child while also teaching them important life skills and values.

Attachment parenting

Attachment parenting emphasizes the importance of a strong parent–child bond and meeting a child’s emotional needs for healthy development (Bowlby, 1982). Based on attachment theory, attachment parenting is particularly relevant in the very early stages of parenting, although some of its principles also apply later on.

Here are some ways to practice attachment parenting (Hughes, 2009):

  1. Responsive caregiving
    Respond promptly to your baby’s cues and signals, such as crying, fussing, or reaching out. This helps them feel secure and fosters trust in their caregivers.
  2. Babywearing
    Use a baby carrier or sling to keep your baby close to you throughout the day. This promotes bonding.
  3. Breastfeeding
    Breastfeeding provides not only nutrition but also comfort and security for your baby. It promotes attachment by facilitating close physical contact.
  4. Co-sleeping
    Sharing a sleeping space with your baby can promote attachment and make nighttime breastfeeding easier.
  5. Emotional availability
    Be emotionally available and attuned to your child’s needs. Offer comfort and reassurance when they are upset.
  6. Baby-led weaning
    Allow your baby to explore and experiment with solid foods at their own pace. This fosters independence and trust in their own abilities.
  7. Positive touch
    Regularly engage in gentle touch with your baby. Physical contact helps strengthen the parent–child bond and promotes feelings of security and wellbeing.
  8. Limited separation
    Minimize prolonged separations, especially during the early months of life. Make sure your child is in the care of someone they can trust if you need to be apart.
  9. Independence
    Support your child’s growing independence by allowing them to explore their environment in a safe and supervised manner. Offer encouragement and guidance as they learn new skills.

Remember that attachment parenting is not the same as gentle parenting. It is also not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it is essential to find what works best for your family while prioritizing your child’s emotional wellbeing and security.

Montessori education

Montessori-style pedagogic approaches focus on fostering independence, respect, and a love for learning through child-led, hands-on exploration within a prepared environment. Here are some ways you can incorporate Montessori principles into your parenting at home (Seldin & McGrath, 2021):

  1. Create a prepared environment.
    Arrange your home to be accessible and child friendly, with low shelves, child-sized furniture, and organized materials.
  2. Follow your child’s interests.
    Observe your child and identify their interests and passions. Provide them with materials and activities that align with their interests.
  3. Encourage independence.
    Foster your child’s independence by allowing them to participate in daily activities such as dressing themselves, preparing snacks, and cleaning up.
  4. Use hands-on learning materials.
    Introduce Montessori-inspired learning materials that promote hands-on exploration and concrete learning experiences, such as wooden puzzles, sorting activities, and sensory bins.
  5. Promote practical life skills.
    Teach your child practical life skills that promote independence and self-sufficiency, such as pouring, scooping, buttoning, and tying shoelaces.
  6. Emphasize process over product.
    Focus on the process of learning rather than the end result. Encourage your child to explore and experiment without worrying about making mistakes.
  7. Provide freedom within limits.
    Set clear boundaries and expectations for behavior while allowing your child the freedom to make choices and explore within those limits.
  8. Encourage exploration of nature.
    Spend time outdoors exploring nature and engaging in sensory experiences such as observing plants and animals, collecting leaves and rocks, and gardening.
  9. Cultivate a love of learning.
    Foster a love of learning by nurturing your child’s curiosity and imagination.
  10. Be a facilitator and observer.
    Step back and observe your child as they engage with their environment and learning materials. Offer support and guidance when needed.

By incorporating these principles into your parenting approach, you can create a supportive and nurturing environment that fosters your child’s natural curiosity, independence, and love of learning.

Does Positive Discipline Work?

Positive discipline, a core tenet of gentle parenting, is about teaching children rather than punishing them. It involves the following key principles (Nelsen, 2012):

  • Mutual respect
    Treat your child with respect and expect the same in return.
  • Positive reinforcement
    Focus on positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.
  • Problem-solving
    Work together with your child to find solutions to challenging situations.
  • Natural consequences
    When possible, allow your child to experience the natural consequences of their actions.

Several studies have shown the positive effects of positive discipline on children’s social and emotional development (Sanders & Mazzuchelli, 2017; Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022; Li et al., 2022), including:

  • Decreased aggression
  • Increased self-regulation skills
  • Improved parent–child relationships

Best Gentle Parenting Books

Gentle parenting emphasizes connection, empathy, and positive discipline to raise confident and kind children. Here are some of the most influential books to guide you on this journey, each offering a unique perspective.

1. The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind – Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

The Whole-Brain Child

Drawing on the latest neuroscience research, Siegel and Bryson explain how the developing brain functions.

They offer practical strategies for parents to help children manage their emotions, build resilience, and develop strong social skills.

The book’s core message is the importance of fostering a “connection before correction” approach, aligning perfectly with gentle parenting principles.

Find the book on Amazon.

2. Positive Discipline: The Classic Guide to Helping Children Develop Self-Discipline, Responsibility, Cooperation, and Problem-Solving Skills – Jane Nelsen

Positive Discipline

Jane Nelsen’s foundational work on positive discipline provides a comprehensive framework for raising respectful and responsible children.

She emphasizes encouragement, problem-solving skills, and teaching children the natural consequences of their actions.

Nelsen’s approach replaces punishment with positive reinforcement, fostering a more collaborative and nurturing parent–child dynamic.

Find the book on Amazon.

3. Good Inside: A Practical Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be – Becky Kennedy

Good Inside

In her book Good Inside, Becky Kennedy offers a compassionate perspective, reminding parents that their children are inherently good.

Good Inside serves as a practical guide for parents seeking to address their child’s more challenging behavior while nurturing a positive relationship with them.

Unlike traditional parenting advice that often focuses on quick fixes like time-outs and rewards, Kennedy emphasizes the importance of maintaining connection with our children.

She argues that strategies focusing solely on behavior management can strain the parent–child bond without addressing underlying issues.

Find the book on Amazon.

4. Gentle Discipline: Using Emotional Connection Not Punishment to Raise Confident, Capable Kids – Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Gentle Discipline

Discover a refreshing approach to parenting in Gentle Discipline, a practical guide that offers an alternative to less helpful responses such as shouting, shaming, and blaming.

This book equips parents with effective strategies to empower their children with the skills they need to flourish.

Filled with actionable ideas that can be implemented immediately, Gentle Discipline caters to parents of toddlers and school-aged children alike. Embrace a new, enlightened approach to nurturing your children, one that fosters listening, learning, and growth.

Find the book on Amazon.

These are just a few of the many excellent resources available on gentle parenting. By exploring these books and others, you can find approaches that resonate most with your own parenting style and values.

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

PositivePsychology.com hosts an extensive collection of research-based articles and resources that can further enhance parents’ understanding and application of positive parenting practices.

You may enjoy reading the following additional article on related topics:

If you want to shape the wellbeing and future of children’s lives, consider this collection of 17 validated positive parenting tools designed for parents, caretakers and guardians. Use them to lay the groundwork for children’s lifelong success and happiness.

A Take-Home Message

We can look at gentle parenting as a form of soft power.

The ancient sage Lao Tzu wrote that although water is soft and yielding, it will eventually wear away rock, which is hard, rigid, and cannot yield. This is the peculiar strength of softness: It will win in the long run.

Gentle parenting is based on respect, empathy, connection, explanation, and setting healthy boundaries within which we can offer realistic choices.

It builds on research into and techniques from positive discipline. However, don’t let the name fool you; gentle does not imply laissez-faire. Rather, it means taking our children, their needs, their worries, and their wants seriously without always giving in to what they think they want at all times.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Parenting Exercises for free.

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