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Gentle parenting: what it is and how it works

One thing all parents know and can agree on is that parenting is hard. Ultimately, every family wants their child to be happy and healthy which means deciding on which parenting style is best for your family is important. If you’re still planning on growing your family or adjusting to a new life with your child, learning about an increasingly popular method called gentle parenting can offer guidance.

There are many kinds of parenting styles and many different pros and cons to each. Picking a parenting style – and sticking to it – can feel like a lot. Below, we’re going to explore the gentle parenting style. You’ll learn what gentle parenting is and how it embraces respect, empathy, and boundaries to nurture your child and your family.

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What is gentle parenting?

Gentle parenting — sometimes called child-led parenting — is when a parent talks with their child with empathy and understanding, even if they are frustrated. Gentle discipline does not involve training kids how to act by punishment or yelling but rather sets consistent rules and boundaries. 

The child-led parenting style, or gentle parenting method, comprises four main elements: empathy, respect, understanding, and discipline.

When to start gentle parenting

You can start gentle parenting at any age, even as early as the 4th trimester. A lot of gentle parenting is how you (the parent) respond to a situation or action, so you can implement it even when your little one is just a baby. For example, if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night, instead of getting frustrated at your baby, try to empathize and consider the many possible explanations for the behavior. Maybe they were hungry, or maybe their nap was too long during the day, so they weren’t as tired at night, maybe they’re going through a new developmental phase, etc.

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Learn about gender-inclusive parenting, another parenting method that’s becoming increasingly popular.

The four elements of gentle parenting

To get to know gentle parenting for beginners, you must know the four elements involved: empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries. These elements must be involved to fully practice the gentle parenting technique.


Using empathy, you look at the situation with a lens of understanding as to why your baby or child may be acting in a certain way. There may be a specific reason behind their actions. Responding to your children with empathy can make a long-lasting impact on them. It can teach them to also consider others’ needs and concerns as they grow up.


Treating your babies and children with respect will show them what you hope to get back from them. Leveling the playing field with equal respect can help a relationship grow and strengthen. Respectful parenting is not always easy, especially in tense or stressful situations, but the outcome will likely be positive if you stick with it!


Understanding is a huge part of gentle parenting, especially for a toddler. You have to work on understanding your child and encouraging their own understanding to raise them to be confident and secure. Maybe your child is someone who needs to eat a bigger lunch and smaller dinner, but if they don’t have that one day, they may act out. If you understand the root of this behavior you can respond with the empathy and respect they need. Importantly—if they’re old enough—you can then help them to understand their own behaviors so that they can meet their own needs in the future.


Many people wonder how to discipline with gentle parenting. But, discipline and boundaries are a crucial part of this parenting style. Parents using this style will set boundaries with their kids through conversation, discussion, and mutual understanding of the boundary. Boundaries are most effective when they are consistent and (when old enough to be understood) communicated.

Common misconceptions of gentle parenting

Some people have problems with gentle parenting or misunderstand this style, and that’s okay. They may also think it’s only for people with gentle tendencies, but that’s not true, anyone can learn and practice this method. Everyone will have their own twist on a parenting style but we can debunk common misconceptions that are associated with the gentle parenting approach.

  • Gentle parenting is too gentle: Some people may find the idea of treating your child with the respect you expect to receive in return to be a “softer” way of parenting.
  • It doesn’t involve punishment: Some people may believe without punishment, there cannot be behavior change, but many people have found gentle parenting to be successful simply with discipline (maintaining consistent boundaries and teaching appropriate behavior) instead of punishment (imposing a negative consequence).
  • It’s time-consuming: While this parenting style may take more research and learning, the time spent can be worth it! It all depends on you and how you want to raise your child.
  • It’s the same as permissive parenting: Because this style may not punish children, it does not mean there are no rules or boundaries, in fact, both of those are a big part of gentle parenting. Permissive parenting usually has very few if any boundaries and little to no discipline.

Benefits of gentle parenting

This parenting style continues to grow in popularity along with other styles such as gender-inclusive parenting. Especially with the impact of social media, more people are seeing the many benefits that come along with it. Many people are saying the work is worth it as they watch their children grow up and they watch who they become. But, there are more benefits too!

  • Who the children become: Many people really learn to love this style as their children grow up and they see how their children react to situations, how they express their emotions, and how they treat others.
  • Kids are open with emotions: With gentle parenting, there is going to be a lot of discussion around how kids are feeling and why they are feeling that way. This can lead to children who are open with their emotions as they grow up, rather than bottling them up.
  • Reduced anxiety: According to Parents, “Research suggests that gentle parenting may reduce the risk for anxiety. In fact, one study found that this approach, ‘may promote regulated responses in social contexts’ in shy toddlers.”
  • Improved parent-child bond: Again, Parents mentioned, “Another study found that gentle parenting may improve the relationship between parents and children.”
  • Their voices matter: This parenting technique allows kids to express their opinions and emotions without punishment. Parents affirm those opinions and emotions, which can lead to confidence and also knowing their voice matters.
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Challenges of gentle parenting

With parenting, there are always going to be challenges, no matter which parenting style you choose. And the technique of gentle parenting is no exception. There are challenges to this method and it may not be for every parent. We explore them below:

  • Staying calm through frustration: One of the main points of gentle parenting is to address your child’s emotions and reactions with calmness and understanding. However, parenting can be stressful and extremely frustrating at times, so staying calm through that can be hard.
  • Patience: Gentle parenting requires a lot of patience, which may not be easy for all parents.
  • Fighting misconceptions: With almost everything parent-related, there are people on each side of this discussion. While that is OK, many parents struggle with the “judgment” they feel that may be on them because of their parenting decisions – and parenting style is no exception.
  • Working as a team: If you have a partner in raising your children, working together as a team can be a pro of gentle parenting, but it can also be a challenge. You will need to be on the same page as your partner to make this (or any) parenting style work.

Tips for gentle parenting

Gentle parenting may feel like a feat to some, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Below are some helpful tips and ideas to remember as you use this style of parenting.

  • Remain positive: Parts of each day as a parent can feel hard, but it’s important to remain positive. Remember what you are working for will be worth it!
  • Patience: While patience can be a challenge while using this parenting style, it’s also an important part to remember so you stay calm and focused during difficult moments.
  • Consistency: As with most things related to parenting, consistency is key. Make sure you stay consistent with your chosen parenting style, like with this one, stick to your boundaries, stay strong, and stay positive!

Handling tough situations

Parents know babies and kids can be unpredictable and sometimes even challenging. Below are some tips and strategies to keep in mind when you are trying to use gentle parenting in unpredictable or challenging situations.

  • Temper tantrums: Children, especially young children, may act out for seemingly no reason. Trying to get them to explain their feelings and talking to them with empathy can be hard if they are in the middle of a tantrum. Often the discussion and consideration needed for gentle parenting will have to happen after the tantrum’s resolution or when a child is older.
  • When you’re frustrated: Because toddlers and kids can challenge their parents at times, it can cause frustration with you and your partner. With frustration, anger can come out. So, it’s important to remember the elements of gentle parenting: empathy, understanding, respect, and boundaries. Empathically expressing your own feelings and boundaries is part of the communication needed for successful gentle parenting.
  • While sleep training: Sleep is sacred for everyone. Without it, we can start to get crabby, stressed, and sometimes angry. Sleep training a baby or toddler can be hard, especially with so many different sleep methods to try. It can minimize the amount of sleep not only that your baby is getting, but the rest of your family too. Sticking to gentle parenting during this time can be hard because of your lack of sleep, and the time it may take to sleep train.
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Examples of gentle parenting phrases

When talking to your children while gentle parenting, what you say is extremely important. How you phrase something is of the utmost importance. Here are some examples of phrases used during gentle parenting and why the phrase works when you use it.

  • “Tell me about…”: This phrase opens the door for your child to tell you about their day, their emotions, their feelings, and so on.
  • “What will help you?”: This phrase allows the child to make their needs known and helps you understand the situation better.
  • “I see you are feeling [emotion]”: This can show them you are affirming their emotion and understanding their feelings.
  • “I love you”: With this parenting style, it is important to remind your children you love them with your words.
  • “Thank you…”: Showing thanks to your child can be a great way to reinforce positive behaviors.
  • “I know you are frustrated (sad, mad, angry, tired, etc.), let’s talk about it”: With this, you are acknowledging their emotion and then opening the door to discuss why they feel that way,
  • “I am here for you if you need me”: This shows your children you are here for them, but if they’d rather work through the moment themselves, they are free to do so.

Which parenting style is right for your family

Deciding on how to parent is very personal and unique to every family. Here are some ideas of what to consider when you are choosing the parenting style for your family:

  • Come to an agreement with your partner: If you have a partner in raising your children, make sure you and they come to an agreement on which parenting style you want to move forward with. Otherwise, it can be hard for your child to go back and forth between styles and not have consistency.
  • Know your child: Different children may react better to different parenting styles. No one can figure that out better than their parents. So, make your parenting style decision based on how you think your child will react best.

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We are here for you every step of the way during your childbirth journey – and after your baby arrives, including raising a child. We hope this article helps you better understand the gentle parenting style.