Over the course of the years and with resources becoming more accessible, we’ve been learning about so many different parenting styles and among them is Gentle Parenting. Sometimes called Positive Discipline, The Gentle Parenting philosophy advocates a partnership between parent and child through its main elements: Empathy, Understanding, Respect, and Boundaries. If you’re not that familiar with Gentle Parenting yet or if you wish to know more about it, let’s take a look further at what this parenting style is all about and how Moms and Dads can practice this.
The goal of this parenting method is to foster a deeper understanding of your child’s feelings and actions based on their level of development. What this means is that, as parents, you also set expectations and adjust your responses to your child’s behavior depending on your child’s age and what stage of development they are currently in. For example, a toddler does not respond to conversations in the same way as an elementary school age child would.
In Gentle Parenting, parents neither punish nor reward their children for their behavior. The reason behind this is that when parents offer rewards (like a new toy or candy) or punishments (timeouts, taking their toys away, etc.), this teaches kids to behave in certain ways either to receive a reward or avoid a punishment. Instead of learning the value of good behavior or a good deed, kids will focus on the praise or prize and avoid punishment out of fear. Gentle Parenting encourages parents to teach their kids in a way that still allows the young ones to express and explore their emotions safely.
To help us understand Gentle Parenting more, let’s talk about Empathy, Understanding, Respect, and Boundaries.
Children are not masters of their own emotions yet. They react according to the way they know how and that usually involves crying or whining. Establish a connection with your child by putting yourself in their shoes. Gentle Parenting encourages parents to allow their kids to express their emotions freely, because this also makes them feel validated. In time, kids will learn self-control and calmness.
As adults, sometimes we also find it hard to manage our own emotions as well. We get angry and frustrated, too, but now we know how to ask ourselves why we feel such emotions. In the same way you acknowledge your emotions, you can also ask your child about theirs. You can also ask why they’re feeling sad or frustrated and try to find a solution if necessary. Remember that a child has not developed the emotional maturity of adults yet, so they need our understanding more than ever.
As mentioned, Gentle Parenting fosters a partnership between parent and child. Such a partnership involves respect. In order for kids to emulate and practice respect, it must be shown and given to them, too. Children also deserve respect. Instead of fear-based warnings or scolding, gentle parenting suggests making requests and giving choices. Gentle parents also respect their kids when they say ‘No’ to hugs or other forms of affection. This teaches kids that they have a say with regards to their bodies.
Gentle Parenting doesn’t mean letting kids get away with anything and everything. Moms and Dads are still in charge. You can still make the rules like no screen time before bedtime. You set clear boundaries that are age-appropriate. Kids will still try to push these boundaries or break the rules, because that is their natural tendency. Sometimes, that’s just how they learn. What’s important is creating a safe space for them emotionally, socially, and environmentally. Gentle Parenting comes from a place of empathy and understanding whenever you are setting rules.
Take a Playful Approach to Requests or Give Choices
A playful approach is recommended especially for younger kids. You can make a game out of tidying up toys or packing away their things. If they’re old enough, you can also try giving them choices such as “Would you like to eat now or after you take a bath?” This enforces the partnership between you and your child. Simple choices can empower them as members of your household.
Comment on Behavior Not the Child
Gentle Parenting encourages parents to explain certain actions and their consequences rather than saying a child is being naughty or nice. It is recommended to explain how actions make others feel, such as “Your sister feels hurt if you pull her hair” or “It makes Mom sad when the room is a mess.” Explaining actions and feelings is a more positive route than labelling a child as being good or bad.
Allow Kids to Express Their Feelings
Let kids cry if they’re feeling upset, and offer comfort instead of telling them to stop or be quiet. Children are allowed to have strong emotions, too, and their feelings should also be validated. Gentle Parenting encourages parents to actively listen to their kids and understand their feelings.
Apologize When You Make a Mistake
There is always value in saying ‘I’m sorry.” Adults can make mistakes, too. It’s okay to apologize when you tend to speak out of frustration or unintentionally do something that upsets your child. Apologizing shows your kids the value of that act, too.
Establish and Negotiate Limits
Gentle Parenting is about safe and healthy boundaries. Yes, you can give choices when it comes to things like bath time, but there are also non-negotiable circumstances like not going outside without Mom or Dad’s permission. You can always reserve “No” for situations that pose harm for your child. But you can also negotiate choices such as “How much time do you need to finish your homework?” and the like.
And remember, Moms and Dads, be kind and patient with yourselves. The fruits of Gentle Parenting don’t grow overnight. It will take a lot of time and learning to see how Gentle Parenting makes an impact on your child’s development. What matters most is doing your best and enjoy all the experiences and lessons you will gain with your little one.
Ketchell, Misha. Gentle Parenting Explainer: no punishment, no rewards, no misbehaving kids. 26 September 2014.
Plant, Renee. What is Gentle Parenting?. 04 September 2021.
Oliver, Natalia. A Beginner’s Guide to Gentle Parenting.