Beginner’s guide to gentle parenting

Gentle parenting is one of the best ways to raise happy, independent, and confident children. It’s an evidence-based approach that focuses on four aspects of parenting: empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.

The term was coined by British childcare expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith who covered the topic extensively in her book, The Gentle Parenting Book. Gentle parenting is defined by helping your child develop desired qualities by enforcing consistent boundaries and being compassionate. It also encourages age-appropriate discipline to teach valuable life lessons instead of focusing on punishments.

Parents who embrace gentle parenting work together as a family unit to help their children understand how to properly express their feelings, needs, and preferences in an age-appropriate and socially-acceptable manner.

Does it work?

Gentle parenting is a fairly new parenting approach. Because of this, there’s a limited amount of research-backed evidence available. However, studies confirm that developing a positive bond between parent and child results in children who are independent, resilient, and happy adults.

Regular interaction between child and parent helps the child’s brain develop millions of neural connections. By frequently repeating positive interactions, you’re laying down important neural pathways which form the foundation for future learning, logic, and relationships. 

Other research suggests that imitation is one of the most powerful ways children learn how to interact in the world, especially babies and toddlers. By modeling respect, empathy, and understanding, you’re providing your child with the groundwork they need to develop positive social skills in the future.


The basic techniques that make up gentle parenting focus on three Cs — connection, communication, and consistency. The better the connection between you and your child, the more eager they’ll be to behave in a way that pleases you. Great communication and consistency with mild boundaries can help you develop and maintain that connection.


Having empathy while practicing gentle parenting means being aware and considerate of your child’s feelings and needs. Whenever your child is misbehaving, there’s always a reason. 

If they’re young, try to figure out what your child wants and why they’re behaving in a certain way. If they’re old enough, you can ask them outright. This will help them understand that what’s important to them is also important to you.

By getting to the root of their behavior, you can gain a better understanding of your child. Dealing with the reason for the unwanted actions, instead of simply punishing them, will help you avoid them occurring again in the future.


Children are human beings with their own feelings, wants, and needs. As a parent, it’s easy to forget that and try to force your way of behaving onto them. Instead, give your child respect and treat them in the same way you’d like to be treated.

Talk to your child the same way you’d expect someone to talk to you. Instead of ordering them to “be quiet” when they interrupt your conversation with someone, explain to them that you’re busy right now and will have time for them in a moment.  

When you show your child respect, they’ll learn to respect you as a parent.


A child’s mind isn’t as developed as an adult’s mind and therefore they don’t have as much control over their behavior. During the first 18 months of their life, a child’s brain is continuously developing and they’re still learning how to communicate with others. 

Gentle parenting encourages you to take a look at your expectations and check they’re age-appropriate. Your child isn’t shouting and screaming because they enjoy the noise. They genuinely don’t know any other way to tell you what they want.

This aspect of gentle parenting is best when you make the effort to understand and pick up on your own behavior, too. When you feel angry and want to get your child to listen to you by raising your voice, you need to modify your behavior.

Sarah explains, “Stop and ask yourself if how you’re behaving is really what you want to teach your child – e.g. if they have done something inappropriate do you really want to shout at them or punish them (teaching them that yelling is how to resolve situations) or do you want to teach them how to stay calm and problem solve?”


Gentle parenting incorporates boundaries to help children feel safe and teach them better ways of doing things. It’s a good idea to be selective about the boundaries you set. The rules have to make sense and be easy to remember.  That will make it easier for you to be consistent and to explain the logic behind them to your children. 

For example, you can explain to your child that it’s important to eat a healthy, varied diet to provide their body with all the goodness it needs to grow and thrive. Or that everyone needs to go to bed at a sensible time so you can all get up on time the next day and not have to rush.

To help with consistency, decide on which boundaries are most important to you. Discuss them with your partner and others in your family who will care for your child. It’s much better to have a short list of boundaries that really matter to you than a never-ending list that no one can stick with.

Is it right for you?

Gentle parenting isn’t easy. Many people incorrectly think gentle parenting means letting your child get away with everything, but this isn’t true at all.

When you practice gentle parenting, you’ll have a set of boundaries in place and many well-planned routines you need to stick to. It’s a lot of hard work, both emotionally and physically, and if you don’t look after yourself at the same time, you can easily find yourself burning out.

One of the major challenges people face with gentle parenting is that it requires you to dive into your own childhood. In order to fully embrace gentle parenting, you need to understand the way you behave and the reasons behind it. Because of this, you need to work on anything that triggers yourself in your past — almost like personal therapy.

Although gentle parenting requires a lot of effort, the results are definitely worth the hard work. The time and dedication you put into developing your new parenting skills are always rewarded when you watch your child mirror your respectful and empathetic behavior to you, your family, and others. 

If you’d like some help getting started with some gentle parenting tools, get in touch with us today. Gentle Parenting is also referred to as parenting with emotional intelligence.  Our family therapists will be able to answer your questions and provide you with all the support and knowledge you need to practice gentle parenting or raising a child with emotional intelligence in your home. Whether you’re looking to switch your parenting method to help you overcome family problems or you’ve become a parent for the first time and you’d like some advice moving forward, we’re here to help.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741