What Is Gentle Parenting? Core Tenets, Pros, And Cons

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 3, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Whether you have older children or are a new parenting learning how to soothe a crying baby, there can be difficult choices to make regarding how to best raise children. Although there is a plethora of parenting advice and many different types of parenting to choose from, there are a few that are often regarded as particularly beneficial.

One of these styles is gentle parenting. Gentle parenting is an evidence based approach that relies on boundaries, empathy, understanding, and respect. This article will discuss gentle parenting, its pros, its cons, and how you can get parenting support through an online therapist.

Gentle parenting holidays
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What is gentle parenting?

Gentle parenting is a parenting approach that prioritizes the connection between children and their parents. The core elements of this parenting style are well-established and were first promoted by child psychologist Dr. Alfred Adler in the 1920s. Using certain tenets as a guideline, those who practice gentle parenting are encouraged to interact with their children in a way that promotes a child’s overall emotional well-being. This includes encouraging independence, expression, and feelings of comfort and safety. This is all while keeping the peace and allowing everyone space and freedom to feel their emotions without judgment, correction, or reprimand.

What are the core tenets of gentle parenting?

Gentle parenting falls into the category of “authoritative parenting”. The four main elements prescribed by gentle parenting founder Sarah Ockwell Smith include empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries. Parents who use gentle parenting make sure children are offered empathy by acknowledging their feelings and using mirroring to make sure their children feel heard.

Below is a more detailed description of each of these four tenets:

1. Empathy

Empathy is the first key aspect of gentle parenting. According to gentle parenting experts, a child’s feelings and experiences are all too often dismissed, minimized, or ignored altogether, even by well-intentioned parents. This leaves them feeling as though they do not matter, and their voices will not be heard. With the gentle parenting method, parents are encouraged to keep their children’s feelings in mind when trying to understand the child’s behavior and when considering how to respond. 

2. Respect

The second tenet of being a gentle parent is respect. With gentle parenting, respect should be mutually demonstrated between children and their caretakers. Experts advise that children should not be expected to respect caretakers in a vacuum, and caretakers should monitor themselves to make sure they are engaging their children in a manner that is respectful and uplifting rather than condescending or dismissive. A simple way to incorporate respect in a parent-child relationship might be to listen to a child when they speak, and to ask questions first, then react.

3. Understanding

The third tenet is understanding. According to the main elements of gentle parenting, when children feel heard and understood, they are far more likely to come to their parents in times of crisis. They are also more willing to listen and adhere to their caretakers' rules, which can prevent a power struggle. One of the most vital aspects of this type of parenting is educating yourself on the typical developmental expectations for children and not expecting children to behave in a way that is too advanced or emotionally mature for their development.

4. Boundaries

The fourth and final key to the gentle parenting approach is setting boundaries and enforcing them. Unlike permissive parenting, which can be relaxed about boundaries, or uninvolved parenting, which may not offer boundaries at all, gentle parenting urges caretakers to set clear guidelines that foster a healthy, loving, and stable environment. Specific boundaries will differ from family to family, but usually involve elements of communication, expectations, and behavior.

gentle parenting father playing with daughter

How does gentle parenting compare to permissive and peaceful parenting?

Gentle versus permissive parenting

Permissive parenting, rather than gentle parenting, is a model that focuses on cultivating a relationship much closer to that of friendship within the parent-child bond, almost avoiding imposing boundaries on a child altogether. This type of relationship involves creating understanding and empathy between parents and children but does not place as much emphasis on creating boundaries, enforcing rules, or creating careful guidelines for children. This stands in keen contrast with gentle parenting, which strongly encourages all of these. Children who have gentle parents learn to develop controlled responses as they are given rules but are allowed to speak, protest, and discuss those rules with their parents.

Gentle versus peaceful parenting

Gentle and peaceful parenting have similarities in their approaches, with one distinct difference: Peaceful parenting centers around the parent working on themselves first, while gentle parenting focuses more on communication patterns and habits. Both prioritize kindness, empathy, and consideration in parent-child relationships.

Peaceful parenting encourages parents to first take care of their own habits that are not conducive to helpful caretaking, and then move on to implementing those strategies in interactions with their children. Peaceful parenting urges caretakers to cultivate a sense of calm in everyday life, then take those same principles and apply them to stressful times. Gentle parenting, on the other hand, encourages a whole-family approach, suggesting that all of the family work together to create a different dynamic.

Pros and cons of gentle parenting, and why proponents suggest it

Pros of gentle parenting

Gentle parenting, according to its creator Ockwell Smith, can create a healthier, more empathic dynamic within a family, easing many of the tensions and resentments that tend to build up between caretakers and children. Gentle parents create strong boundaries to help a child feel a sense of safety and comfort, but they also give children space to express their feelings, wants, and needs. 

Under gentle parenting, children can feel as though they are free to navigate their own emotions and feel their feelings without being stifled. Still, they are able to enjoy the comforting presence of a strong authority figure and the comfort of guidelines and boundaries. 

Research has shown that gentle parenting may reduce the risk for anxiety and promote controlled responses in social contexts among shy toddlers. This helpful report also found that positive parenting styles, such as the gentle parenting approach, have a positive impact on school performance

Cons of gentle parenting

Nearly every parenting style has pros and cons. Gentle parenting has been criticized as being too lenient or being too close to attachment parenting. Although it seeks to distinguish itself somewhat from that parenting philosophy, it does encourage some of the suggestions of attachment parenting.

Gentle parenting is sometimes thought of as teaching parents to relay canned responses in reaction to children's accomplishments. For example, gentle parents might tell their young son or daughter, "You look like you're having fun. Did you enjoy drawing your picture?" instead of offering a simple, "Whoa! What a beautiful picture!" Opponents suggest that using such awkward-sounding, unnatural phrasing could impede children's ability to speak to others effectively and naturally.

Why use gentle parenting?

Proponents of gentle parenting suggest that children with gentle parents will grow up to be more confident, capable adults. Moreover, gentle parenting advocates say everyone in the family will more thoroughly enjoy relationships when they are cultivated within this framework, as they allow everyone involved to have and express their unique perspectives, ideas, and experiences.

Gentle parenting: Dad cooks with his daughter
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How to transition to gentle parenting

The transition to gentle parenting can initially be rocky, and families might require some help in beginning the transition. A therapist can sometimes act as a parenting coach, helping families incorporate new routines and habits into daily life and iron out any issues that are keeping old habits in place. A professional may also be able to help individuals work on personal concerns that are impeding progress.

Parenting in modern society can be extremely demanding, though. Many parents may feel like they don’t have a moment to spare to attend therapy sessions with their already-busy schedules. Online therapy, such as through BetterHelp, presents a convenient alternative to in-person counseling for some people since it can eliminate the time-consuming commute as well as scheduling conflicts within the family.

Parents considering implementing gentle parenting may be curious about the effectiveness of this type of remote counseling for parenting concerns. One research study examined the effectiveness of an online therapy parenting program, and it found that the online intervention had “positive effects on the parents’ psychological flexibility and emotional control.”

Counselor reviews

Deborah Saper, LMFT
She actively listens, asking questions when appropriate while also letting me finish my thoughts without interrupting. She offers constructive ideas about my concerns or anxieties, but she does so respectfully, without making me feel dumb or judged. I would recommend Debbie to those seeking to learn better emotional control, especially in the context of learning to be a better parent and spouse.”


Parenting in any situation can be difficult, but implementing an entirely new parenting style can feel like an especially large undertaking at times. If you are interested in trying gentle parenting with your own children, you may consider starting by incorporating the four tenets described above. If you would like further support as you navigate this new approach with your child or children, online therapy may be able to help.

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