What the Heck is Gentle Parenting Anyway?

The term ‘gentle parenting’ has been bandied about A LOT. But what is gentle parenting exactly?

In simple terms, it’s more of a laid back ‘partnership’ style of relationship between parent and child.

Gentle parenting is where you, as a parent, give up the authoritative, demanding, buck-stops-with-me kind of demeanour (a style I’ve managed to fine tune during my 20 years of parenting) in favour of a more relaxed, softer style of parenting.

Sounds kinda easy, doesn’t it? Turns out, gentle parenting might not be quite as simple as it sounds.

Cue the sound of crickets? Stick with me here…

Who does this style of parenting suit?

Parenting is a tough gig. If you’re tired of butting heads with your kids over EVERY LITTLE THING, trying a gentler, mindful parenting approach might be just the ticket to unlocking a whole new beautiful relationship between you and your kids. What have you got to lose by giving it a crack?

woman yelling, gentle parenting
Put an end to being THAT yelly parent

How is gentle parenting different from traditional, mainstream parenting?

Not for the faint of heart, those who practice gentle parenting choose to guide instead of control their sweet (sometimes unruly) children. It’s an interactive, intuitive and active parenting style, as opposed to a reactive one.

Author and parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith sums it up in three simple words: understanding, empathy and respect.

But it seems we’re misguided in thinking gentle parenting is a carefree parenting style. Apparently, it’s anything but. And ridding yourself of past habits and natural reactions is no doubt HARD.

This style of parenting is SO not easy

You can be forgiven for thinking that gentle parenting is all about having no shits to give. But actually, there’s more to it than that and from where I’m standing it ain’t looking easy. Here’s what’s involved:

  • Pushing any power play to the side, this style of parenting is more about connecting with your children in a partnership rather than an authoritative relationship.
  • Giving children choices and not commands.
  • There’s a playful approach to getting things done. Be prepared for lots of “let’s make a game out of packing everything up!”.
  • Feelings and emotions run free. There’s no interrupting an outburst to stop or calm a child down, you let that meltdown run its course and then validate and acknowledge those emotions.
  • Limits are negotiated between child and parent where possible.
  • There’s no forced affection. If nanna wants a hug goodbye and your child isn’t willing to give it up, too bad nanna.
  • There are no routines set by parents or experts. Parents are guided by observing and following their children’s natural rhythm.
  • Good behaviour is not rewarded. Rewards are seen as superficial and unnecessary. Not a sticker, not a treat, nada, zilch.
  • Overtly praising your child is also viewed as shallow and unnecessary.
  • There’s also no punishments!
  • In mainstream parenting we expect our children to act a certain way when in public and to exercise mature social behaviour. But gentle parenting encourages us all to just accept children are children and to lower our expectations significantly.
kids on couch, gentle parenting
Gentle parenting requires us to lower our expectations of how kids should behave in public

Benefits of gentle parenting

One of the main things that stand out to me is that children are likely to feel more heard and valued when they feel they’re on more of an even ground with their parents. And this is undeniably going to benefit your child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Not so great things about gentle parenting

The not-so-awesome thing is the MOTHERLOAD OF SELF-CONTROL you need as a parent. Parenting this way can be really tough at times, particularly when the kids’ self-guided limits are testing YOUR limits. However, the experts DO advise parents to take some parental time-out if needed. Step away, breathe, regain your composure and go back in.

woman hands on head, gentle parenting
You may need to do this occasionally in your ‘parental time-out’ session

Not sure if gentle parenting is your jag? There’s a whole heap of other parenting styles that ALL work in different ways. Check them all out in Parenting Styles: What Type of Mum Are You? and if you have defiant children and are at your wit’s end, you’re sure to get a laugh out of 5 Times When it’s Totally OK to Think Your Kid is a Turd. LOL!

Avatar of Lexi Klaebe

South Australian mum and self proclaimed foodie, Lexi can most days be found in the kitchen, apron tied firm and armed with a whisk or wooden spoon!

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