Let’s Get Real: 5 Reasons Gentle Parenting Doesn’t Work

Gentle Parenting, also known as Conscious Parenting, has gained popularity in recent years as a more empathetic and compassionate approach to raising children. It focuses on building a strong connection with the child, promoting their emotional development, and avoiding punitive measures such as spanking and time-outs.

While Gentle Parenting can be a powerful tool for creating a loving and respectful relationship with your child, it is not without its pitfalls. So let’s get into, shall we?

Here are 5 Reasons Gentle Parenting Doesn’t Work.

Gentle Parenting Doesn’t Work, or Does it?

Pitfall #1: Being too permissive

One of the most common misconceptions about gentle parenting is that it means being permissive or lenient with your child. Most parents are introduced to this parenting style by way of social media. They may stumble upon a creator on Instagram and/or Tiktok and jump headfirst into practicing what they think is Gentle Parenting.

The parents take the words ‘Gentle’ and ‘Parenting’ literally, and begin to parent their children without structure or boundaries.

This, of course, is confusing and stressful for the child. Confused and stressed children will communicate these feelings with their behavior. This behavior will typically lead these parents to declare that Gentle Parenting doesn’t work.

Children thrive on routine and predictability, and need clear guidelines to feel safe and secure. So while these parents believe their actions constitute gentle parenting, they don’t. Instead, they perpetuate the myth that Gentle Parenting doesn’t work.

To avoid this pitfall, it is important to set clear limits and expectations for your child, while still maintaining a warm and supportive relationship. This can involve setting age-appropriate rules and consequences, using positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior, and offering choices within limits.

Pitfall #2: Neglecting your own needs

Gentle parenting often emphasizes the importance of meeting a child’s emotional needs, but it is equally important to take care of the needs of the parents. This can include prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries with the children, and seeking support when needed.

When parents neglect their own needs, it can lead to burnout and resentment, which can undermine one’s ability to parent effectively. By practicing self-care, parents are better able to show up for their children with patience, empathy, and compassion. All the aforementioned are necessary to effectively practice Gentle Parenting. Without self-care, parents will soon begin to feel that Gentle Parenting doesn’t work. And it doesn’t, not without self-care.

Gentle Parenting doesn’t work when parents fail to do their own self-work. In fact, Gentle Parenting is more about the parent than it is the child. The parent must be aware of their triggers, and learn to regulate their own emotions so they can parent intentionally.

Children will always be children, regardless of how you parent. They will test boundaries and behave as children do. Learning how to respond to the typical, but often-triggering behavior of children, is work, and if we don’t put in that work, Gentle Parenting doesn’t work.

Pitfall #3: Overcompensating for past trauma

parents tickling a child while discusssing why gentle parenting doesn't work

Many parents turn to gentle parenting as a response to their own experiences of harsh or punitive parenting, or as a way to protect their child from experiencing the same.

I would argue that the pandemic gave many of us the time to really explore who we are, and the ways in which our childhoods contributed to some of the emotional challenges we face today. In fact, it was during the pandemic that I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder, which fueled my Gentle Parenting journey.

When I learned that BPD is a genetic disorder, I became consumed with every detail of my parenting. I was terrified that something I might do would contribute to my children developing this disorder. I didn’t want them to suffer as I did, so as a consequence I stumbled into fearful and permissive parenting.

While recognizing our childhood trauma can be a great motivator for adopting a gentle parenting approach, it can also lead to overcompensating for past trauma and creating an overly permissive or indulgent parenting style. To avoid this pitfall, it is important to work through your own experiences of trauma and develop a clear understanding of what healthy boundaries and expectations look like.

This may involve seeking therapy or other support to heal from past wounds and develop a more balanced parenting approach.

Pitfall #4: Failing to understand child brain development

There is often this unrealistic expectation that Gentle Parenting will create more compliant and obedient children. This false premise is the reason many parents will declare Gentle Parenting doesn’t work. The truth is, those parents didn’t do their homework.

In order to adhere to Gentle Parenting, it is imperative that parents take the time to understand some degree of child development, so they can set appropriate and realistic goals.

For instance, I’ve had parents often say:

“I’ve been practicing gentle parenting, but it doesn’t work. My toddler still doesn’t listen to me.”

And when I explain that following instructions and impulse control are a part of executive functioning, a skill that has barely even begun its development in toddlers, they are astounded. They are even more shocked when I tell them that auditory processing isn’t completely developed in neurotypical children until they are 14.

Parents who want to practice Gentle Parenting have to know these things, otherwise, they will have unrealistic expectations and begin to take their child’s behavior personally. And once a parent feels personally slighted by their child, all Gentle Parenting goes out the window. This is where reading some parenting books on child development comes into play. A few of my favs can be found here.

Mistake #5: Failing to provide structure and consistency

While gentle parenting advocates for a more flexible and responsive approach to parenting, it is still important to provide structure and consistency for your child. This can include setting regular routines for meals, bedtime, and daily activities, as well as offering clear expectations and consequences for behavior.

Failing to provide structure and consistency can lead to a lack of predictability and stability for your child, which can be especially challenging for children with Autism, ADHD, anxiety, or other developmental challenges.

Gentle Parenting Doesn’t work if parents don’t put in the work.

Gentle Parenting Doesn't Work
What do you think? Does Gentle parenting work? Share your thoughts below!

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  1. Sarah Maurer says:

    The link to your favorite books on child development doesn’t work. Would you mind sending me the correct link? I’d really like to start reading up on that

  2. I would recommend you continue to educate yourself, especially when it comes to child brain development. You need to know what to expect from your kids so you aren’t trying to punish them for things that are normal parts of child brain development. if a child is not listening (I have an article on this very topic, by the way, you need to look at what you’re asking them to do. Do they need help complying? What is preventing the task from being done? You need to be looking to solve the problem, not punish it away. Does that make sense? Understanding executive functioning is key, too. I’d recommend you read The books I wish my parents have read and the Whole Brain Child to begin. You can also read my article called Conscious Discipline.

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