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Everything You Need to Know About Gentle Parenting
Updated on
August 10, 2023

Everything You Need to Know About Gentle Parenting

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Everything You Need to Know About Gentle Parenting

Since babies don’t come with a “how-to” manual (though we really wish they did), people often turn to the internet and books for help in figuring the whole parenting thing out. While there isn’t one golden recipe for parenting your toddler (each family, child and circumstance is unique), how we raise our children greatly impacts how they’ll grow, learn and exist in the world.

There are multiple parenting styles and most people don’t fall neatly into one category. And if you’ve done any research on the topic, you’ve likely heard about gentle parenting. But what is it? And how do you actually do it? We’re covering everything you need to know.

What is gentle parenting?

Gentle parenting (also sometimes referred to as respectful, conscious or positive parenting) is a parenting philosophy that’s gained popularity in the last few years. It’s a holistic approach to parenting that emphasizes empathy, respect and understanding in order to foster a healthy parent-child relationship. Unlike other parenting philosophies that follow a more authoritarian style, gentle parenting is closely aligned with authoritative style and aims to raise and teach children through positive guidance and modeling.

“What all gentle parents have in common is the belief that children are worthy of the same respect we would want for ourselves as adults,” says Lisa Jean-Francois, founder of Consciously Lisa and author of No Right Way: A Beginners Guide to Conscious Parenting. “We don’t hit, yell, threaten, shame or punish. We do, however, hold firm boundaries, respect our children and model the behavior we’d like to see them exhibit.”

Some of the key beliefs of gentle parenting include:

All behavior is a form of communication. Instead of viewing challenging toddler behavior as something that needs to be corrected or punished, gentle parents try to understand the underlying needs or emotions behind the behavior. A helpful tip to keep in mind: your toddler isn’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time.

Parents are encouraged to set healthy, age-appropriate boundaries and expectations for behavior, while still respecting their child’s individuality. They deal with challenging behavior by using positive discipline techniques like redirection, positive reinforcement and problem-solving, rather than punishments like time-outs or spanking.

Another important aspect of gentle parenting is the emphasis on the parent-child relationship. It recognizes the crucial role of attachment and connection in a child’s development. By nurturing a secure and loving relationship with your toddler, you’ll be able to create a safe and supportive environment where they feel comfortable and confident.

Benefits of Gentle Parenting

Gentle parenting requires a lot of patience and self-regulation (which can be really hard when you’ve got a toddler throwing a tantrum). But the good news is, there are plenty of benefits that make practicing it beneficial to both you and your toddler.

Promotes the development of essential life skills. By involving toddlers in decision-making processes and allowing them to have a say in matters that affect them, they’re encouraged to think critically and problem-solve. This active involvement also encourages the development of independence and self-confidence from an early age. And these skills will benefit them beyond childhood by serving as the foundation for their future selves.

Creates a positive and respectful family dynamic. Instead of resorting to punitive and harsh discipline, gentle parenting uses positive discipline strategies that focus on guiding and reinforcing positive behaviors. This helps foster a healthy, respectful relationship with your toddler.

Encourages emotional intelligence and empathy. By recognizing and validating our toddler’s emotions, we can teach them how to express and regulate their feelings in healthy ways. This emotional awareness also can help foster empathy towards others, since they’ll learn to understand and respect the emotions and experiences of those around them.

It also has benefits for you, the parent! Gentle parenting encourages parents to slow down, listen and respond calmly to challenging situations (which can lead to more peaceful and enjoyable daily routines). It also can help parents let go of unrealistic expectations for behavior and accept their toddler as a unique individual with their own strengths and limitations.

Challenges of Gentle Parenting

The term “gentle parenting” may sound misleading because, in reality, it’s neither permissive nor the “easier” parenting route to take. It can actually be more challenging to implement gentle parenting than traditional methods because it requires a lot of internal reflection on our end before we can connect with our toddlers.

“I think the biggest barrier to gentle parenting is the adult’s willingness to confront their own traumas and triggers,” says Jean-Francois.

And traditional parenting philosophies grounded in authoritarian styles are what most parents are used to, so there will be a lot of unlearning and relearning as we parent our children.

Gentle parenting isn’t a magic fix for tough behavior—toddlers will still be toddlers. They’ll still push boundaries, test limits and have meltdowns.

“There is no one specific strategy that every gentle parent can adopt that will work across all children when they are having challenging moments,” Jean-Francois says.

Instead of using shame or hard punishments to try and prevent or correct these behaviors (which can have lasting negative effects into adulthood) gentle parents can approach tricky behavior with empathy and use natural and logical consequences.

  • Natural consequences occur without any action by the parents. An example is your toddler refusing to wear a jacket while playing outside on a cold day and becoming uncomfortable.
  • Logical consequences “are directly related to a child’s behavior and are imposed by the parent or caregiver,” Jean-Franois says. They’re a relevant and appropriate response to the behavior. For example, your toddler is throwing their favorite toy at you and after you’ve told them something like, “we don’t throw toys at other people, that hurts,” they continue doing it. A logical consequence is to take it away and redirect them to something else.

How to Practice Gentle Parenting

So, how do you start? “With education,” says Jean-Francois. She recommends diving deeper than social media posts and learning about the why behind gentle parenting—why there’s no spanking or yelling. For most of us, our default parenting style will mirror how we were raised as children. Doing things differently can be uncomfortable, challenging and exciting all at once. We’ll need to reflect on our own behavior first in order to parent with intention and be healthy models for our toddlers.

Jean-Francois also says that “gaining some understanding of child brain development is equally as important.” (A really helpful read is The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel).

And keep in mind, “gentle parenting is a journey and not an overnight adaptation, adopting it will involve changes across every facet of the family’s homelife [so] it takes time,” Jean-Francois says.

Once you’re ready to start, here are a few ways to weave practice gentle parenting in your daily life:

  • Actively listening to your toddler and validating their experiences and emotions.
  • Valuing their opinions and perspectives.
  • Meeting them where they are and having realistic, age-appropriate expectations.
  • Attuning to their needs so they feel connected and understood.
  • Allowing them to make choices when possible (like choosing between two shirts while getting dressed in the morning).
  • Setting boundaries, which creates structure and predictability for your toddler (which children thrive off of).
  • Address challenging behavior with positive discipline, redirecting and utilizing natural consequences.

In today’s fast-paced (and often stressful) world, gentle parenting can help provide a more mindful and compassionate approach to raising children.

EXPERT SOURCES

Lisa Jean-Francois, founder of Consciously Lisa and author of No Right Way: A Beginners Guide to Conscious Parenting.

Types of Parenting Styles and Effects On Children

California Department of Education: Ages and Stages of Development

Harvard Graduate School of Education: The Effect of Spanking on the Brain

Positive Discipline: Natural Consequences


Briana Engelbrecht

Assistant Editor

Briana Engelbrecht is Babylist’s Assistant Editor, where she brings her passion for early childhood development and the perinatal period, plus experience as a mom of two to Babylist articles and guides. A former preschool teacher, she loves children’s picture books, cats, plants and making things.

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