Gentle parenting is a nurturing style of raising children that allows parents to partner with their little ones to promote their growth and development. This parenting style encourages open communication and reflection, leading children to make positive choices independently. Gentle parenting moves away from seeing a child’s behavior as neither good nor bad. Children can communicate their unmet needs, and a parent focuses on teaching positive behavior instead of punishing or removing privileges as a deterrent to negative behavior.1,2
How Is Gentle Parenting Different From Other Parenting Styles?
Gentle parenting is the most collaborative parenting style and the only one that does not include punishment or negative reinforcement. While the permissive parenting style is child-led with minimal boundaries, and the authoritarian style is parent-led with many, gentle parenting uses teamwork between parents and children to set and respect boundaries.3
Parents lead their children to make positive decisions through open communication and by setting clear and consistent expectations. Natural consequences, rather than punishment, guide little ones while encouraging social-emotional learning. Gentle parenting respects the feelings and thoughts of children, empowering them to become confident and independent.1,2
Parents connect with their children to develop empathy and grow social-emotional skills together. Through gentle parenting, parents provide mutual understanding, modeling, and positive guidance to raise happy, confident children. This approach implements four key pillars: respect, boundaries, empathy, and understanding.3,4,5
Respecting a little one’s thoughts and feelings makes them feel heard and valued. Openly expressing themselves with their parents early encourages healthy communication skills that become the foundation for all future relationships while giving them the confidence to thrive independently at school, during activities, and on the playground.
Gentle parenting uses fair and firm boundaries to make children feel confident in the expectations set for them and includes the child as often as possible in creating these guidelines. For example, creating a list of rules for the home as a family is a hands-on way to involve little ones in decision-making and bonds the family through teamwork.
The gentle parenting approach believes it is normal and healthy for children to test boundaries. As little ones grow from babies to toddlers to young children, they test boundaries as they gain independence. This shows curiosity and growing confidence and should not be judged harshly or taken personally by parents (no matter how hard that may be!).
Parents understanding how hard it is for children to be constantly growing, developing, and having added expectations put on them is an essential component of gentle parenting. Gentle parenting asks that parents have realistic expectations for their children and themselves. When parents make mistakes, a gentle parenting strategy is to use those experiences as an essential tool to model appropriate actions, such as the parent apologizing or making amends. This teaching impacts little ones and helps them realize that everyone makes mistakes, which encourages resilience.
Developing empathy can be tough for young children, as they are often in phases of development where, to gain independence and confidence in themselves, they are primarily self-serving. Gentle parenting encourages children to think more about how others would approach things or are feeling, which leads them to build empathy and social connections. Along with communication, pretend play can help little ones engage in empathy and practice important social interactions. Pretend play encourages expressive language, which promotes asking questions, making choices, and experiencing the feelings of others. This can build essential connections and impressions on how children will treat people in real-world situations and support the development of their social conscience.
How to Practice Gentle Parenting
Parents can practice gentle parenting as soon as the baby is born. From the start, communicating and respecting the child forms a bond of trust and security that will promote confidence as they grow. When speaking, parents look at children’s faces as they talk, give them undivided attention, actively listen and respect their thoughts and feelings. They work with their children to establish boundaries and use consistent reinforcement, encouragement, and open communication to help develop decision-making skills and confidence.
Tips and Tricks for Implementing Gentle Parenting
Use Meaningful Praise
Meaningful praise is focused on character, kindness, and any action parents want children to repeat. Parents may praise children for helping, using manners, showing kindness, and sharing feelings.
Use Positive Dialogue
Instead of saying, “no, don’t touch,” gentle parenting asks the parent to give the reason, allowing the child to understand the importance and learn to respect the item. With gentle parenting, the parent might say, “this item is fragile and could break, so we can only look at it and enjoy it with our eyes.”
Use ‘We’ and ‘Our’ Phrases
Using “we” and “our” phrases when talking about behavior, rules, and expectations helps little ones follow the rules more readily because they understand the rules are for everyone. For example, if your child hits you out of frustration or anger, a parent practicing gentle parenting may say, “Ouch, that hurt me. We cannot use our hands to hit because it hurts other people’s bodies. Please do not hit me, and I will not hit you.” If the behavior continues, the parents will remove themselves from the space to give the child time to reflect and use their hands respectfully.
Use a Communication Corner
Create a communication corner or a calming corner, rather than a space for punishment, to provide a safe place to discuss issues and feelings. Designate a cozy space to talk together or for children to take time alone. Offer drawing pads and crayons as talking tools and inspire little ones to find their words. Support little ones by providing hands-on tools to help them process and manage feelings. This can include books, fidgets, stress balls, and plush toys.
Gentle parenting is an impactful style of parenting in which children are respected and guided to make independent decisions using empathy and kindness. Strong family bonds and core values develop through open communication, understanding, and collaboration. Through gentle parenting, fair boundaries and clear expectations are shared and managed through consistency and positive reinforcement. Parents raising children with gentle parenting model positive behavior and encourage autonomy to grow confident, happy kids.
1. Larzelere R, Lindner Gunnoe M, Roberts M, et al. Children and Parents Deserve Better Parental Discipline Research: Critiquing the Evidence for Exclusively “Positive” Parenting. Marriage and Family Review. 2017;53:1,24-35.
2. Havighurst SS, Wilson KR, Harley AE, Kehoe C, Efron D, Prior MR. 2013. “Tuning into Kids”: reducing young children’s behavior problems using an emotion coaching parenting program. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 44(2):247-64.
4. Landry SH, Smith KE, Swank PR. 2006. Responsive parenting: establishing early foundations for social, communication, and independent problem-solving skills. Dev Psychol. 42(4):627-42