4 questions about gentle parenting, answered by a child psychologist

The idea of “gentle parenting” can conjure images of ill-behaved children running around your favorite restaurant or kicking the back of your plane seat.

But experts say this parenting method might actually be a smarter approach to helping kids handle their emotions.

“The belief of this approach is that children are inherently ‘good’ and that difficult behaviors are often a result of emotional dysregulation, or not having access to a better coping skill in the moment,” says Irina Gorelik, a child psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group.

But what exactly is gentle parenting? And what does it look like in practice?

Here’s everything you need to know about the approach and how it can benefit children and parents, explained by Gorelik.

4 questions about gentle parenting, answered by a therapist

1. What is gentle parenting? 

Typically, traditional parenting emphasizes consequences, Gorelik says. But sometimes punishment doesn’t actually lead a child to change their behavior or attitude.

“Many punishments are often not exactly correlated with the behaviors themselves,” she says. “For example, being grounded for something that happened in school. This often tends to increase the power struggle between a parent and child.”

While gentle parenting still requires kids to have rules, it focuses on respecting and validating the child’s feelings or desires as opposed to scolding them for having any. 

Many punishments are often not exactly correlated with the behaviors themselves.

Irina Gorelik

Child Psychologist

“It allows parents to set boundaries or limits and be sturdy when needed, while providing a framework for this to be done with validation, support, and helping the child feel seen,” she says.

Gentle parenting also acknowledges kids’ different developmental stages. 

“Knowing that it is completely normal for younger children to have meltdowns over seemingly minor letdowns can help a parent respond with a kinder, gentler approach, versus raising their voice or getting angry at the child,” Gorelik says. 

2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of gentle parenting? 

There aren’t many drawbacks, Gorelik says, if the approach is being applied correctly. 

“There may be misconceptions that gentle parenting means ‘no rules’ or is a ‘soft’ form of parenting, so the drawbacks only exist if the approach is misunderstood,” she says. 

And as for the benefits, there are many.

Gentle parenting, when applied correctly, can:  

  • help children develop confidence, independence, self-esteem, and strong emotion regulation skills
  • reduce power struggles between a parent and child 
  • improve relationships between family members at home
  • improve communication between parent and child

3. Will gentle parenting make my kids bratty? 

Gentle parenting is not simply appeasing your child. 

“The idea is that in this approach, the goal is not to ‘give in’ to difficult behaviors, but instead, to have clear limits and boundaries while acknowledging that children are allowed to have their age-appropriate emotional responses,” she says. 

The goal is not to ‘give in’ to difficult behaviors, but instead, have clear limits and boundaries while acknowledging that children are allowed to have their age-appropriate emotional responses.

Irina Gorelik

Child Psychologist

She gives the example of a child who doesn’t want to get dressed to leave the house and instead wants to play on their iPad. 

“The parent might use this as an opportunity to set a boundary and use their role as the authority,” she says. 

Instead of yelling at them, a parent can say, “iPad time is over. I know it is hard to end fun things. I can turn it off for you, or you can turn it off on your own.” 

If the child continues to refuse, the parent can turn off the iPad themselves, and say, “Looks like it was too hard to turn it off. I’ll do it for you this time.” 

“By using those individual moments as teaching examples, parents can model their own calm demeanor when responding to the child and help them learn better coping tools once the child is in a calm state themselves,” Gorelik says.

4. Is gentle parenting right for every kid? 

No child will be harmed by gentle parenting, but certain kids might find it more helpful than others, Gorelik says. 

“Some kids have easier temperaments and can adapt more easily to various parenting styles,” she says.

“But gentle parenting may be especially helpful for kids with more sensitive temperaments who have a difficult time regulating emotions.” 

Gentle parenting is all about demonstrating empathy and meeting a child where they are, developmentally. 

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

Don’t miss:

Parents should consider schools in these 12 states if their kid’s mental health is a top priority

4 books to help you conquer your social anxiety, recommended by therapists