Gentle parenting has been getting a lot of attention lately, thanks to viral videos on Instagram and TikTok. In many of the 30- to 60-second clips, parents detail the benefits of the parenting style, which prioritizes the child's emotional needs of child and a calmer method of discipline over traditional, more authoritarian styles.
Maggie Nick, MSW, therapist and founder of Parenting with Perspectacles, tells POPSUGAR that while gentle parenting is often misconstrued as letting your kids walk all over you, "that's the biggest misconception." Many people think that because gentle parenting "advises against harsh discipline," kids will become entitled or spoiled. However, Nick says, that's simply not the case.
"Meeting kids' emotional needs helps them feel safe and secure, not entitled and spoiled," she says. "And punishments are terrible teachers. It is completely possible, and not that hard, to hold kids accountable for their behavior, teach them about the impact of their actions, while making them feel loved and supported."
If it sounds like your kids or future kids could benefit from gentle parenting, here's what you need to know about the method, what it looks like, and how to apply it in real life.
What Is Gentle Parenting?
Gentle parenting — or gentler parenting, as Nick calls it — is an umbrella term for a parenting approach that aims "to recognize and meet the needs of children in a gentler, more respectful way without using traditional, authoritarian-style discipline and punishments," Nick says. The gentle-parenting framework at Parenting With Perspectacles, for instance, focuses on raising children "who feel seen and loved" and "teaching parents how to allow kids to have their big feelings while setting and holding strong boundaries." Through this framework, parents are taught how to maintain boundaries with their children without the use of traditional discipline methods (think: time out, a "naughty chair," spanking, "Go to your room!" etc.).
What Are the Benefits of Gentle Parenting?
"There are so many benefits to gentle parenting," Nick says, including a deeper, more understanding relationship between you and your child — one that prioritizes their acceptance and value over judgment or punishment. Nick notes that children aren't the only ones to gain from the parenting style — here's a list of benefits she credits to gentle parenting:
- Parents feel more connected to their child or teen, even during meltdowns.
- Parents feel more confident in their parenting, because they have the tools to move through the messiest parts of parenting alongside their child instead of engaging in power struggles and the inevitable "us vs. them" standoff.
- Children learn that they deserve love even when they're struggling.
- Children feel more comfortable coming to their parents with "big feelings," knowing that their parents won't immediately get upset.
What Does Gentle Parenting Look Like?
Gentle parenting focuses primarily on acknowledging the existence of big feelings and letting them happen for the little ones in your life. Because of that, gentle parenting often requires some unlearning on the parents' part: "Most of us grew up bottling up our feelings," Nick says.
"When I learned that my child's meltdowns were the way they released stress and big feelings and not something I needed to manage, control, or shut down, it allowed me to feel less overwhelmed and less triggered."
Allowing your kid to blow up may feel triggering or like something that needs to be shut down. Why? "Because parts of us want to protect our kid from how our parent would have reacted to 'disrespectful' or 'dramatic' behavior," Nick says. She emphasizes how important it is to allow yourself time and space to learn and unlearn what it really means to gentle parent and to give yourself time to "build a tolerance for the big feelings we had to push down."
Once you do that, you can shift your perspective from the headspace of "I can't stand my child right now" to "My child needs my help right now."
"When I learned that my child's meltdowns were the way they released stress and big feelings and not something I needed to manage, control, or shut down, it allowed me to feel less overwhelmed and less triggered," Nick says. "Meltdowns went from the most overwhelming, triggering part of parenting to this profound opportunity to show my kid that I love all of them. Even when they are at what may feel like their "worst," I am not going anywhere, they are not letting me down or disappointing me, and they have nothing to be ashamed of."
Part of the perspective shift includes the way you respond to your child's big feelings, including the language you use to "discipline" them. When kids are struggling, Nick recommends using the Magic 9: "I see you. I've got you. I love you." Those nine words are meant to help your child feel safe, seen, secure and loved — even during the toughest or messiest moments. Instead of saying, "I'm not mad, I'm disappointed," she recommends saying, "I'm not going to let you do that. I see you struggling, I've got you. Yes, there may be a consequence, and yes, I love you."
"If we want our kids to be able to love themselves when they're struggling, then we have to show them that they deserve love when they're struggling," Nick says.
That being said, the parenting style you decide on should be the one that best fits your family's needs. If that's gentle parenting, great! But if it's not, that's OK, too. It's important that you choose a style and an approach that actually works for your family, and not just the one a confident-seeming stranger on TikTok is telling you to go with.