Does Gentle Parenting Work For Every Child? The Answer May Surprise You

What exactly *is* 'Gentle Parenting'?
A smiling Caucasian family having fun on the snow.
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A smiling Caucasian family having fun on the snow.

We’ve all heard the buzzword ‘gentle parenting’ and seen countless videos on TikTok of parents showing how they gentle parent their kids — but what does it actually mean?

The technique aims to alleviate external pressure on the child and places a focus on making choices due to a child’s internal willingness. The parenting style attempts to build a partnership between the parent and child and take into account the child’s emotions, according to Guidepost Montessori School.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, a parenting expert and author of The Gentle Parenting Book, sums up what gentle parenting is in three words. She says it’s about empathy, understanding and respect.

In her blog she writes gentle parenting is about respect: “Respecting your child as much as you would respect an adult. For some reason in our society we afford children little respect.

“We constantly tell them what to do, what they like and dislike and perhaps worst of all the constant “be quiet” commands. We don’t really ‘hear’ them enough. Why did he hit the other child? Why did she bite? Why did he kick?

“Why doesn’t she want to go to bed? Why doesn’t he want to eat? Why doesn’t she want to go swimming today? Children are real people – just like us. If we want them to respect us, then we need to respect them.”

But there is a common misconceptions that the technique means there aren’t boundaries and rules, but Sarah explains that gentle parenting does not mean permissive parenting.

“Children do not always ‘get their own way’, parents do not say ‘yes’ all of the time, scared of the upset if they say ‘no’. In fact often they can be more strict, with more boundaries in place than others. I am an incredibly ‘strict’ parent – in the sense that we have *many* family rules and lots of boundaries and limits that are consistently enforced.”

All in all, gentle parenting is about giving choices instead of orders and helps to validate a child’s emotions. Its end goal is to help the child become emotionally intelligent and to manage their emotions.

But according to research, the technique is not always a success so it depends on your child and the situation.

Is gentle parenting for my child?

Research carried out by Robert E. Larzelere on the types of parenting most effective with toddlers, showed that techniques like gentle parenting might not be as effective for some.

Techniques which offer alternatives and choices frequently to toddlers that are defiant and are hitting, could increases externalising problems, whereas moderate use of punishments decreases total behaviour problems.

Holly Zoccolan, parenting expert and founder of The Carol App says that gentle parenting, with its emphasis on empathy, respect, and understanding, aims to foster a deep connection between parents and their children.

However, like any parenting style, it may not always produce the desired outcomes for every family at all times. She offered a few reasons why gentle parenting might not work as expected.

1. Every child is unique, with their own set of needs, temperament, and ways of responding to their environment. Gentle parenting assumes a one-size-fits-all approach, which might not resonate with every child’s individuality.

2. Gentle parenting requires a high level of patience and consistency. In moments of stress or exhaustion, maintaining this can be challenging, leading to mixed messages for the child.

3. Some parents might struggle with setting and enforcing boundaries in a gentle manner. Children thrive on clear boundaries, and without them, they might feel insecure or lack guidance.

What to do if gentle parenting isn’t working

Amanda Jenner, parenting expert and founder of My Carry Potty has provided tips on what you can do if gentle parenting isn’t working on your child.

Self-Reflection: Reflect on your emotions, stress levels, and well-being. Taking care of your own needs is crucial for effective parenting.

Re-evaluate Your Approach: Consider whether you might be misunderstanding or misapplying gentle parenting principles. Ensure a clear understanding of the philosophy and techniques associated with gentle parenting.

Assess Consistency: Check if you’re consistently applying gentle parenting techniques. Children benefit from predictability and clear expectations.

Adjust Boundaries: Reevaluate the boundaries you’ve set for your child. Gentle parenting doesn’t mean being permissive; clear and reasonable boundaries are essential.

Communicate with Your Child: Talk openly and age-appropriately with your child about expectations and feelings, fostering cooperation and mutual respect.

Seek Professional Guidance: If struggling, consider seeking guidance from a parenting coach, counselor, or therapist for tailored insights and strategies.

Consider Developmental Factors: Adapt your parenting approach to align with your child’s current developmental stage.

Connect with Supportive Communities: Join parenting groups or communities for shared experiences and valuable insights from others facing similar challenges.