What is Gentle Parenting? 10 Myths & Facts You Need to Know

What is Gentle Parenting: A mother hugging her son wearing a cowboy hat in a grassy field.

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.

There is power in being gentle! Grow close bonds, teach empathy, and raise gentle kids with big hearts. Learn what is gentle parenting and why it's the best parenting approach to fostering emotional intelligence and raising resilient & kind children. By Such a Little While.

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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:

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.

What is Gentle Parenting?

Stock photo of a mother, father, and two children lying down and laughing together.

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:

Traditional 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

Gentle Parenting:

  • 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
What is Gentle Parenting: "Gentle parenting is a lifestyle that encompasses both your physical and psychological behaviour, not only towards your children but to yourself, too." Sarah Ockwell-Smith, The Gentle Parenting Book. Text overlay an image of a mother and father kissing their son on the cheeks while he's holding a yellow frisbee. Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

5 Key Myths & Facts About Gentle Parenting

Myth #1: Gentle parenting is permissive parenting.

What is Gentle Parenting: Myth: Gentle parenting is permissive parenting. Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

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.

What is gentle parenting?

Venn diagram showing that permissive parenting is "kind," authoritarian parenting is "firm" and authoritative "positive parenting" (gentle parenting) is both.

Graphic by Such a Little While LLC

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).

What is Gentle Parenting: Myth: Gentle parenting uses positive reinforcement (e.g., rewards charts). Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

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.

“Research suggests that, by and large, rewards succeed at securing one thing only: temporary compliance. When it comes to producing lasting change in attitudes and behavior, however, rewards, like punishment, are strikingly ineffective. Once the rewards run out, people revert to their old behaviors.”

Alfie Kohn, Harvard Business Review

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.

What is Gentle Parenting?

How to Be an Asking Parent vs. a Telling Parent 

Graphic by Such a Little While LLC
Telling: "Tablet time is over.  Turn it off!"

Asking: "The timer just went off.  What was our agreement about the tablet?"
Telling: "Quit your whining!"

Asking: "You sound upset.  How can you talk so that I can understand you?"

By Such a Little While LLC
What is Gentle Parenting?

Telling: "Give that toy back to your brother.  He had it first!"

Asking: "You really want that.  How can you make sure he knows you would like a turn when he's finished?"

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.

Best Self-Esteem Quotes for Kids Praise vs. Recognition Such a Little While LLC

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.”

What is Gentle Parenting: Myth: Gentle parenting produces "spoiled brats." Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

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):

What is gentle parenting?

Judged by loved ones for your gentle parenting?  5 Key Solutions

suchalittlewhilecom

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.

What is Gentle Parenting: "Some parenting methods give all control to the parents, for fear that children will become unmanageable monsters... others give children far too much control, with parents scared to discipline when necessary... Gentle parenting is all bout finding balance." Sarah Ockwell-Smith, The Gentle Parenting Book. Text over a light pink background with pink squiggly lines on the corners. Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

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.

Best Respect Quotes for Kids: "Respect is a two-way street, if you want to get it, you've got to give it." R.G. Risch. Text in white box over pink shapes. Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com
Best Respect Quotes for Kids: "If you want your child to choose kindness in their moments of anger, show them kindness in your moments of anger." Tana Amodeo, suchalittlewhile.com. Text over a light pink background with pink squiggly lines on the corners. Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

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.

What is Gentle Parenting: Myth: Gentle discipline relies only on natural and logical consequences. Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com
Types of Consequences: Arbitrary, Natural, Logical by Such a Little While
Consequences explained: Imagine your child purposefully broke her brother's new toy...

Arbitrary: Tell her she can't have dessert tonight

Logical: Ask her to make things right by replacing the toy with money from her piggy bank

Natural: Recognize and affirm the sibling is upset and doesn't want to play with her for awhile.  

suchalittlewhile.com

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!

What is gentle parenting?

Searching for the "perfect consequences?  Consider the perception and purpose.

To teach >Yes, this is likely positive parenting.

To punish > No, this isn't positive parenting.

suchalittlewhile.com

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.

What is gentle parenting?

When a child is in meltdown mode they are not emotionally available (yet) for redirection.

If you are working to teach your child a social/emotional skill, consider:

What is gentle parenting?

Teaching coping skills early! 12 key tips by Such a Little While LLC

Myth #5: If you didn’t begin during the toddler years, it’s too late to start gentle parenting.

What is Gentle Parenting: Myth: If you didn't begin during the toddler years, it's too late to start gentle parenting. Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

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.

What is Gentle Parenting: A father looking up at his son and smiling while carrying him on his shoulders.

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:

Managing Routines & Transitions in Early Childhood: Positive Parenting Challenge PDF Workbook by Such a Little While

Graphic of free PDF workbook.  Text Reads "Positive Parenting Challenge 3.0, must-know positive discipline do's & dont's, 30 powerful, easy-to-follow tips & tools, unlock 10 key features of positive parenting, customizable parenting solutions, master the art of effective consequences).

    You’ve got this!

    My toddler refuses to brush their teeth blot post, written by Tana from Such a Little While
    Hi, I’m Tana! I’m a mom, certified positive parent educator, and former school counselor. It’s my mission to help you foster social/emotional wellness through positive parenting.
    Managing Routines & Transitions in Early Childhood: Positive Parenting Challenge PDF Workbook by Such a Little While

Graphic of free PDF workbook.  Text Reads "Positive Parenting Challenge 3.0, must-know positive discipline do's & dont's, 30 powerful, easy-to-follow tips & tools, unlock 10 key features of positive parenting, customizable parenting solutions, master the art of effective consequences).

      You’ve got this!

      My toddler refuses to brush their teeth blot post, written by Tana from Such a Little While
      Hi, I’m Tana! I’m a mom, certified positive parent educator, and former school counselor. It’s my mission to help you foster social/emotional wellness through positive parenting.

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