Gentle Parenting

You’re at Target and your child is begging for a toy.  You say no, and he/she begins to cry.  How do you respond?

  1. Put the toy in your cart.
  2. Tell them to stop crying.
  3. Explain that it’s incredibly frustrating to not get what we want, and that it’s okay to feel sad about that, while maintaining the boundary that you will not get her the toy.

If you chose option C, you may already be employing a “gentle parenting” style. If you’ve spent any time on Instagram or TikTok over the past few years, you’ve likely come across various parenting influencers touting the benefits of a variety of parenting styles.  From “gentle” or “positive” parenting to more authoritarian styles, the internet is awash with information on how to raise your kids. 


 This article will present a brief overview of gentle parenting, which has become popular in recent years. The term was originally coined by Sarah Ockwell-Smith in her book The Gentle Parenting Book. According to Ockwell-Smith, Gentle Parenting can be summed up in four words: Empathy, Understanding, Respect and Boundaries.  While the term gentle parenting is recent, the concept is not; rather it is a rebranding of authoritative parenting, which emphasizes a moderate approach to parenting focused on building respect, creating boundaries, and affirming children’s emotions.


Gentle Parenting emphasizes emotional validation, while still maintaining strong boundaries and clear limits.  Many opponents of gentle parenting confuse it with permissive parenting, a style where parents set few limits and allow their children’s regulatory state to dictate their response.  Authoritative and permissive parenting can be seen in contrast to authoritarian parenting, which can be summed up as the “because I said so” style of parenting, which emphasizes rules and consequences without needing to explain reasoning.  Gentle parenting aims for parents to be the thermostat, not the thermometer, meaning they set the climate for their children, rather than reacting to their child’s emotions either with strict rules and responses (authoritarian) or by changing their behavior to appease the child (permissive).  

When in doubt, think of how you would like to be treated.  If your boss yelled at you and told you to complete your work now and because he/she said so, how would you feel? Would this help foster a strong bond between the two of you? Probably not.  The same goes for parenting.  When we can show empathy and understanding to our children they in turn feel positively towards us and are more likely to come to us when they encounter problems.  They also learn to move through their emotions, and build resilience when they are able to handle and understand difficult situations.

This is an incredibly brief overview, so if you are interested in learning more about gentle parenting please consider checking out some of the links below for a more in depth look at how gentle parenting can be practiced.


Clare Thoele, MSW, LSW