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Why I am starting to hate the term "Gentle Parenting"





If you're a parent, you will likely have been bombarded left, right and smack bang in your face with the term "gentle parenting".


Sure, in theory it is great. A way to parent our kids and work through the ups and downs of life without resorting to shame, insults and punishments? A way for this precious little incredible human to always feel uplifted, respected and worth the sun, the moon and the stars? A supposed "magic trick" to encourage positive behaviours so my child can be the absolute kindest, most respectful, authentic version of themselves? What could possibly go wrong? SIGN ME UP!


In the beginning, when my eldest daughter was very young, I was a victim to the gentle parent mentality. Over and over I would repeat "gentle hands" until I was waking up in the night screaming GENTLE HANDS in a cold sweat (not really, but close). I would allow her to be rude, to throw a tantrum, stay inside all day long because she didn't want to go outside, to wallow in misery all day whining and moaning because she was just "working through her feelings". And what's worse, I allowed other children to scream at her, take her toys without asking and be rude towards her because they too, were just working through their feelings. In my head I was thinking "this is fine, it will all work out because this is the way it is supposed to be done".


I thought these kids would magically flip a switch and everything would settle into place. Like they would scream and stomp their way into a cocoon and emerge as a glorious butterfly, whose gigantic wings were dappled with everything this messed up world needs to be fixed and changed and transformed into a world of peace, love and kindness. All because I allowed them to tornado through their early years pushing, shouting and snatching. I was gonna be a GREAT parent.


My husband, who grew up as the only child in a strict household, simply looked on amused and baffled at my supposed lack of skill. "I work in Early Childhood, I have a degree, I think I would know what's best" I would say often. Meanwhile he, on the other hand, would give simple, concise, clear and firm instruction about what's expected, what she did wrong and offered very little praise.


Complete polar opposites. Our poor daughter trying to navigate between us from morning to evening wondering who she could go to for guidance and support. We needed to come together in some way for the sake of our daughter and also for ourselves.

I went through so many "scripts" (which I now loathe) and wondered why my daughter continuously went off script. "No darling, thats not how its supposed to go".


I laugh now but at the time it was so incredibly frustrating and COMPLICATED. I cannot stand scripts and expecting that "if as a parent I say this then my child will do this". Children are not robots to be programmed. Scripts can be so inauthentic and do not reflect the fact that every single child is unique and has their own unique views. You cannot script your way through modern parenting as much as I did try. I tried to the point where every single thing that I said to my daughter, I would rehearse it in my head trying to find the best possible way to say it. It was completely false, inauthentic and doing her a disservice.


You see, society has led us in many ways to believe that parenting "gently" or "respectfully" is similar to allowing children to lead the way. It is often mistaken with being permissive or putting children on a leadership pedestal while we worship at their feet. Meanwhile, those children are being filled with anxiety, fear, stress and discomfort at having been given this role. These tiny humans, brand new to the world and all the craziness it involves, are supposed to be able to just figure it out, while parents observe, gently redirect and offer no consequences or boundaries.


These are the two key terms that are often left out of the TikTok and Instagram perfect picture image of what it means to be a gentle parent. Please, please remember that all of the reels, photos and dreamlike videos are literally snapshots from the best part of that persons and that child's day. They don't share the tantrums (thankfully, talk about shaming your child) and they ESPECIALLY don't share their reactions to the tantrums every single time. They might share advice, guidelines, tips and "hacks", but it is all a facade to what truly goes on in that house each day. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, and we need to stop striving for something that doesn't exist. Meanwhile our kids watch on in confusion and dysregulation as they watch us in the pressure cooker that is modern parenting in a society that places so much emphasis on perfection and aesthetic.


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Boundaries, provide structure and guidance in a child's world. They highlight acceptable behaviors and establish expectations, helping children develop a sense of security and stability in their interactions with others and their environment. Boundaries also serve as a form of protection, shielding children from harm and providing a safe space for exploration and growth.


When setting boundaries, it is essential for parents and caregivers to communicate clearly and consistently. So that could mean instead of just watching your child hit another (or yourself) and saying "gentle hands" and allowing the child to continue hitting or pushing, you need to set the clear expectations from the beginning, offer a warning and then follow through.


This could look like if your child hits their sister with the remote control while watching tv. You set the expectation, give the warning of the consequence and then if needed, implement the consequence (tv gets turned off). Children rely on cues from caregivers to understand the parameters of acceptable behavior and navigate social interactions effectively. By articulating expectations and boundaries in a calm and consistent manner, caregivers empower children to make informed decisions and develop self-regulatory skills.


You can also set an expectation in advance of what you might feel could be a testing situation. For example before your child's birthday party, you can inform them of the expectation that they must say thank you when receiving a gift. They may not follow through each time, but will definitely feel more supported in their interactions when they know what is expected of them.


A boundary might also look like enforcing independent play in your routine. So many parents talk to me about how their child needs them to be on the floor playing with them and they are feeling resentful and losing the joy of parenting (Hello! It was me!). You can fix this by implementing a boundary that Mommy is not going to play with them, they are fully capable of playing on their own or with friends or siblings. Yes they will be upset at first, and whine and moan, but if you are consistent and clear and don't waver, your child will come out the other side and take themselves to play. It might take hours, days or weeks but your child will be so empowered in their own personal playtime, lighting up with ideas and imagination and you can watch on enjoying a hot coffee in peace. I have written an entire post about how important it is to have independent play every day which you can read here.



Consequences serve as invaluable teaching tools for children to understand the relationship between their actions and outcomes. From a young age, children begin to explore cause and effect, testing the waters of their environment to discern patterns and understand how their behavior influences the world around them. By establishing clear and consistent consequences for both positive and negative actions, we provide children with a framework for understanding accountability and responsibility.


Children thrive on predictability and rely on the stability of established boundaries to navigate their surroundings effectively. Inconsistency can lead to confusion and frustration, which takes away from the effectiveness of consequences and upsets the learning process. By maintaining a steady approach to consequences, caregivers reinforce the importance of accountability and build a sense of trust and security in the parent-child relationship. It is truly showing children that we love them and love them so much that we want to support them to be the best version of themselves.


Consequences should always, always come with a warning and most importantly, should always be followed through. This could look like, no screen time for the remainder of the day, no treat after dinner, no pocket money this week or whatever works in your house. You might also want to look at a reward chart or a chore chart to reinforce positive behaviours and support them with visual expectations and guidance. Consequences are NOT the same as punishments. It is a true show of support and that we love them so much that we want to support them to be the best version of themselves.


I will send my child to her room if my buttons are being extra pushed that day. I am also known to have sent her outside if she wants to scream and shout. I'm not ashamed of it, and she doesn't love me any less for it. We also use sweets as rewards and stickers too (punishable by death apparently in todays standards) to encourage positive behaviour and it has worked.







Finally, a word to our own parents. Standards today will lead us to believe that we suffered immense childhood trauma by the way we ourselves were parented, and if we want to avoid doing the same to our children, then we must break the cycle. I am not denying that there were some awful parents, just like there are some awful ones today. But for the majority, they were doing their absolute best in a time where mental health was taboo, families were big, money was scarce and information was extremely limited. Don't hold their mistakes against them too much and appreciate that you are still here, walking on this great earth and doing your best in raising the next generation. You will make your own mistakes and you can be a fantastic model to your child in how to own your mistakes and work on improving. Therapy is a wonderful tool and is even available for free on www.turn2me.ie


TRUST ME, when you begin to implement expectations, boundaries and consequences, your child will feel secure, loved, safe and included. Anxiety will decrease, joy will return and the family unit will strengthen. I am so proud to say that I use boundaries, consequences and expectations and our daughter has really thrived from this renewed clarity and unity that comes from my husband and I. Not gently parenting your child will not traumatise them or make them hate you. Once you are showing up with love and care and support, that is the only thing that matters. Yes, you will blow your top sometimes. Yes your child will still tantrum and sulk. Yes you will make a ton of mistakes. You might feel like you are growing up as a parent in a world where everyone is doing so much better than you. It hurts, it's stressful and it's hard. Take the stress of getting everything right off your back. You love your child, you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't. What more do they need? Besides, you will always have me in your corner cheering you on :)


Like this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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I cannot express how much I love every single note you hit here Katie. Gentle parenting is just not a thing in this household. There’s plenty of fun, care and unlimited love. But there are also rules and punishment. The same way my husband and I were raised and it done us no harm and in-fact - I’m proud of the people we are today and I attribute our parents as a huge positive factor in who we are. I also wholeheartedly agree with what you said about our generation and childhood trauma, most of our parents did the best they could and to try take away from that and find a role to be a victim in, reall…


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