Positive, supportive, or gentle parenting is a philosophy that’s grounded in respect and empathy for children. According to Ann McKitrick, an early childhood specialist and parenting coach, this approach puts a child’s emotional development front and center. “The focus is on creating an environment of safety, loving responsiveness, and respect for the child as an individual,” McKitrick said.
But don’t be fooled by the name: this philosophy is hardly a hands-off approach. Of the three parenting styles—authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved—gentle parenting falls somewhere between authoritarian and permissive. It has the essential guidance and boundary-setting of the former and the peacefulness of the latter.
Joy Gandell, a critical life skills and parenting coach, emphasized that positive parenting focuses on the whole child instead of just their behaviors. This holistic approach to child-rearing sees kids’ actions as a form of communication and invites parents to decode their little ones’ needs, responses, and triggers.
What is Gentle Parenting?
Gentle parenting runs on mutual respect and relationship building. The philosophy encourages parents to divert attention away from undesirable behaviors and instead offer recognition for a job well done.
In practice, this calls for a simple reframe while also focusing on keeping kids safe and secure. Instead of leaning into correcting behaviors, (e.g. saying things like, “No, don’t do that!”), parents might offer encouragement when kids have made the right choice, (e.g., “I like the way you’re sitting on your bottom in that chair.”).
How Does Gentle Parenting Work?
Let’s face it: Young children are not expert listeners. Tuning out grown-up voices seems to be part of their M.O. So we can safely assume that if we want to teach big and important life lessons about navigating tough emotions and treating others kindly, we’d better not use our words to do it.
Instead, the approach welcomes parents to practice modeling the behavior they want their kids to emulate. This means treating our children with the respect they deserve—using a kind tone of voice, even while it’s firm, and always practicing non-violence.
Why Should You Practice Gentle Parenting?
Parenting coach Tina Bishai offered a helpful perspective. “I used to get stressed out whenever we would be late for school. There would always be some drama or meltdown when we were in a hurry. But when I shifted my mindset to staying calm and present with my daughter … and focused on my commitment [to her] instead of the late arrival, everything changed,” she said.
Bishai went on to explain that children naturally pick up on our emotions no matter how well we think we’re hiding them. “Your kids are often reacting to the emotion they sense within you as their parent,” she said. “When you can approach situations with this kind of commitment and demonstration of unconditional love, your entire relationship changes.”
How Is This Parenting Practice Different?
Instead of responding to negative behaviors with punishments, use a positive parenting approach by finding a natural consequence. Let’s say your child repeatedly ignores your countdown to bedtime. Instead of issuing a punishment, explaining to your child that they ran out of time for a story will help them learn that every choice and every behavior have consequences.
McKitrick also encouraged parents to take their child’s development into account. “To guide your child, you must first understand where they are cognitively, which affects their ability to respond to you,” she said.