What exactly is gentle parenting?
One thing is for certain: Gentle parenting is a term loaded with misconceptions.
Parents often find themselves confused when trying to carry out this caregiving philosophy effectively or face harsh judgment by misinformed loved ones.
Perhaps you’ve run into some problems with gentle discipline and wondered if you are doing it “right.” Or maybe you have heard friends claim, “Gentle parenting is ridiculous!”
Either way, you’re in the right place. This post will outline the key principles of gentle parenting and bust the most common myths surrounding the childrearing approach.
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- What is gentle parenting?
- 5 Key Myths & Facts About Gentle Parenting
- Myth #1: Gentle parenting is permissive parenting.
- Myth #2: Gentle parenting uses positive reinforcement (e.g., rewards charts).
- Myth #3: Gentle parenting produces “spoiled brats.”
- Myth #4: Gentle discipline relies only on natural and logical consequences.
- Myth #5: If you didn’t begin during the toddler years, it’s too late to start gentle parenting.
- The Last Thing You Need to Know about Gentle Discipline
What is gentle parenting?
While gentle parenting is quite complex, and there is always more to learn, here is our simplified definition:
Gentle parenting is an approach to caregiving that prioritizes the parent-child connection and forgoes traditional, punitive discipline. Gentle parents uphold boundaries and limits while empathizing with and validating their children’s emotions and experiences.
The term is often used synonymously with:
- Positive Parenting
- Authoritative Parenting
- Conscious Parenting
- Respectful Parenting
- Mindful Parenting
- Peaceful Parenting
- Attachment Parenting
While these terms can carry some subtle differences, the basic parenting style is the same. Each approach is rooted in empathy, connection, awareness, and respect and prioritizes children’s social-emotional development.
Gentle vs. Traditional Parenting
Onlookers and loved ones often view gentle parenting as controversial because it goes against “traditional” parenting techniques typically passed down between generations.
Here are some key differences between traditional and gentle parenting:
- Emphasis on “obeying” authority
- Use of punishments (e.g., taking away privileges, time-outs, or physical discipline)
- Use of rewards (e.g., sticker charts/positive reinforcement)
- Often a repeat or variation of intergenerational parenting patterns
- Emphasis on mutual respect, beginning with parental modeling of behavior
- Use of parent-child “connection” before “correction” of behaviors and upholding boundaries
- Focus on empowering a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation in children
- Draws on parenting practices backed by social science research
5 Key Myths & Facts About Gentle Parenting
Myth #1: Gentle parenting is permissive parenting.
Without question, this is the biggest misconception surrounding gentle parenting.
While gentle discipline steers clear of harsh or arbitrary punishments, gentle parents can and should respectfully uphold loving limits and boundaries for their kids.
Fact: Gentle parenting uses a respectful, loving approach to boundaries.
If you are trying to learn how to gentle discipline, please know that it should not leave you feeling like a doormat!
The easiest way to uphold respectful boundaries is to focus on what you will do rather than trying to “force” your child to do something through threats.
For example, instead of saying, “Clean up now or we’re not going to the park!” Try, “When the toys are cleaned up, I will be ready to take you to the park.”
Myth #2: Gentle parenting uses positive reinforcement (e.g., rewards charts).
I spent nearly a decade working in public education before understanding the downsides of sticker charts. If the idea of skipping rewards is new to you, you are still a great parent and not alone!
The trouble with rewards and sticker charts is they serve as external motivators for behavior.
Parents and educators will continuously find themselves dangling that carrot to influence a child’s behavior… then the “compliance” they once received eventually fades with time.
Fact: Gentle parenting aims to foster intrinsic motivation in children.
So how can you motivate a child without rewards or punishments?
If you issue a demand to a strong-willed child, they will most certainly sink their heels in the mud. Instead, when given a bit of “voice and choice,” kids will typically rise to the occasion and grow into collaborative problem-solvers.
Furthermore, gentle parents strive to limit excessive praise, which tends to go hand-in-hand with rewards.
While it’s tempting to shower your child with an abundance of “good jobs!” this can cause children to seek external validation rather than to find pride and joy from within.
Instead, gentle parents strive to use open-ended recognition prompts to help children validate their own efforts and accomplishments.
For example, instead of “Wow, you won the game! You’re so smart! I’m so proud of you,” try, “I noticed how hard you worked to play fair and follow the rules! How did that feel?”
Myth #3: Gentle parenting produces “spoiled brats.”
No young child is immune to developmentally expected behavior such as testing boundaries, impatience, poor emotional regulation, and limited impulse control.
At the same time, let’s take a quick look at what the research tells us about entitled, spoiled, or defiant behaviors and the parenting approaches that can exasperate them (scholarly articles linked below):
- Children forced or coerced into sharing are less likely to share independently when compared to kids given the choice to share (Chernyak & Kushnir, 2013).
- Intrusive psychological control by parents (“forcing” a child to do something or threatening punishments for non-compliance) is associated with challenging behavioral outcomes in children (Rudd, Alkon, & Yates, 2017).
- Youths allowed to act as collaborative problem solvers after causing harm are less likely to engage in future harmful behavior compared to those who receive traditional discipline or punishments (Wilson, Olaghere, & Kimbrell, 2017).
The biggest critics of gentle parenting are typically misinformed or parented/are currently parenting in a way that does not align with this childrearing approach.
For many, this can result in defensiveness, passive-aggressive behavior, or even harsh words directed towards the gentle parent/their children. If this sounds all too familiar, I invite you to learn key communication strategies and get support here.
Fact: Respectful parenting is the key to raising kind and confident children.
Children forced to blindly obey often fall into “people pleasing” tendencies and may be more prone to anxiety long-term.
As challenging as it can be for us as parents, questioning authority is a natural part of childhood development. The key to fostering respect long-term is to focus on ourselves.
Plain and simple: When it comes to respect, kids are most likely to repeat what they know and experience.
Myth #4: Gentle discipline relies only on natural and logical consequences.
Yes, gentle discipline does support the use of natural consequences and logical consequences in certain circumstances (more on consequences here).
However, consequences are not the only or even the most effective gentle discipline tools when it comes to challenging behavior.
The goal of positive, gentle discipline is to teach. And there are many, many (more fun) ways to teach a child social-emotional skills!
Fact: Non-punitive consequences are one of many gentle discipline tools, and often aren’t the best ones at changing behavior!
If the goal of gentle parenting is to teach, we must consider when the best time for children is to learn.
Kids learn best when things are calm. Not during the heat of the moment when an incident has already occurred.
If you are working to teach your child a social/emotional skill, consider:
- Modeling the behavior
- Discussing scenarios from books/real life and role-play
- Using visual aides
- Playing social-emotional learning games
Myth #5: If you didn’t begin during the toddler years, it’s too late to start gentle parenting.
As parents, we love our kids and strive for our best with what we have and what we know.
If you recently learned about gentle parenting or your stance on it has changed, there is no better time than today to get started.
Fact: It’s never too late to start gentle parenting.
It’s never too late to implement a change in your parenting journey. After all, the basic principles of gentle parenting are fundamental to any successful relationship and are beneficial for connecting with adults, too!
I invite you to stick around, here at Such a Little While it is our mission to help you become the parent you always dreamed you’d be.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Gentle Discipline
Whether you’ve barely dipped your toe into gentle parenting or have been at it for some time, knowledge and support are the keys to success.
Since 2020, Such a Little While has partnered with thousands of parents worldwide in building a solid foundation in gentle discipline through our free 30-day challenge.
Through this free email course, you’ll receive bite-sized, easy-to-follow tips. In just a few minutes a day, you’ll learn how to break free of nagging and yelling and say hello to connection and collaboration:
You’ve got this!
You’ve got this!