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  • Writer's pictureRhonda Berryhill-Castaneda

Has Gentle Parenting Gone Too Far?

Has Gentle Parenting Gone Too Far?

When Gentle Parenting becomes Permissive, it’s no longer about the children.

With the rise of the internet, parents are bombarded with all the ways they’re going to “screw up” their children. Not only do they have to worry about SIDS, breastfeeding, and teaching their baby how to talk, walk, and act; but now they have to choose a parenting style?

According to most mental health professionals, there are four different parenting styles. Diana Baumrind identified the authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive parenting styles in the 1960’s. Then, Stanford researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin added neglectful parenting in the 1980s. 

In 2024, if someone searches for parenting styles, they might find upwards of 20 unique labels. But in the end, they all fall back to one or a mixture of the main four recognized by mental health professionals. 

And with mental health awareness on the rise, parents are feeling the pressure not to “screw up” their kids' chance at happiness. 

But when does gentle parenting become permissive, and which one has the research to back it up?

What is Gentle Parenting?

“Kids are too soft these days. Parents are too afraid of disciplining with all this gentle parenting nonsense.”

You’ve heard this around a holiday dinner table once or twice. And I don’t blame the person who said it. The disagreement within the gentle parenting community is confusing.

Let’s get clear about what gentle parenting means. There are so many subsets these days, such as mindful parenting, peaceful parenting, collaborative parenting, and the list goes on. 

It can make someone's head spin. 

But if we take it all the way back to the origins, gentle parenting is authoritative parenting minus the rewards and punishments.

In fact, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, the author who first coined the term ‘gentle parenting,’ says, “the ideal parents would walk a carefully balanced line of good responsiveness and appropriate demand of the child, mindful of their development. The definition of this? Authoritative parenting, or as I like to call it: Gentle Parenting.

Gentle parents have age-appropriate, consistent boundaries, provide emotional support when those boundaries frustrate their children, and rely mostly on natural consequences when the rules aren’t followed.

Let’s look at a real-life example:

Your child is three years old and is supposed to walk calmly as she sets the table for dinner. Tonight, she is a ball of energy and having a hard time containing it. She parkours off her step stool with a spin, sticks the landing, but drops the plate right onto her toe. The plate breaks, and she is crying from the pain. 

A gentle parent provides comfort for the injury and discusses the natural consequence (the very painful toe) as a great learning opportunity. Then they clean the mess up together, employing a logical consequence here as well. 

While authoritative parenting might use time out as a punishment or permissive parenting might provide comfort but not require help cleaning the mess, gentle parenting avoids parent-imposed discipline so that children can learn why things happen. 

Benefits of Gentle Parenting

  • Lower risk for depression

  • Better self-regulation

  • Higher academic achievement

  • Stronger parent-child relationship

Downfalls of Gentle Parenting

  • Gentle parenting focuses on the long game; you won’t get immediate compliance

  • It is difficult to stay calm when children are dysregulated and screaming.

  • You may experience judgment from other people. 

What is Permissive Parenting?

On the surface, permissive parenting might seem like the most loving option. These parents are usually incredibly nurturing and warm. And they are often more of a friend to their children than a parent.

To put it simply, it’s a free-for-all for the kids. Very little structure exists, and any structure in place is usually bendable. 

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Returning to Diana Baumrind’s definition of permissive parenting, it is associated with high responsiveness and low or nonexistent expectations. 

This is where gentle parenting gets confused with permissive parenting. While gentle and permissive parents alike are highly focused on emotional and mental well-being (high responsiveness), some parents forget that children still need a strong foundation they can rely on.

Children of permissive parents are not given the opportunity to develop self-regulating techniques or skills for the real world.

Benefits of Permissive Parenting

You want your children to be happy.

  • Strong parent-child bond

  • Lower risk of drug addiction

  • Higher self-esteem

  • Low effort from parents

Permissive Parenting Cons

  • Unable to self-regulate with food and other activities

  • Lower academic performance

  • Higher rates of aggression

  • Poor time management skills

How to Gentle Parent and avoid Permissive Parenting

First and foremost, it is crucial to set consistent, fair, age-appropriate boundaries. This is a cornerstone of gentle parenting. 

  • Decide which limits are arbitrary and which ones are intentional. Keep the intentional ones.

  • Discuss them with your children and explain why these rules are important. 

  • Set expectations about what will happen if limits are not met and then follow through while providing support to your child.

  • Reevaluate your own coping mechanisms and learn grounding techniques for when tantrums inevitably happen.

  • And remember, your child is not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time.

It is wonderful that parents and caregivers these days are actively working towards better mental health for their children. But when the pendulum swings too far into permissive parenting, it unintentionally has the opposite effect on the next generation. 

For more information on how we provide kids with compassion and structure during their session at Cherished Child Coworking Preschool, book a tour here.

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