When Gentle Parenting Doesn’t Work

It seems like everyday I come across a comment from a parent proclaiming “gentle parenting doesn’t work”, that their baby “still cries all the time” or their toddler “tantrums constantly and still hits his brother” – this despite all of their effort to understand and practice gentle parenting, which can be so much more time consuming (not to mention emotionally consuming) than a more authoritarian conventional way of parenting. The obvious conclusion quickly drawn in these cases is that whilst they understand the theories behind gentle parenting, they’re not so sure that they believe in it, because it’s just not working out for their family.

They are wrong.


The problem lies somewhere in our modern society’s ‘quick fix’ obsession, with our fast food, same day pay loans, 3 day weight loss diets and celebrity nannies who claim to fix any family’s problems with one short visit. Real life just isn’t like that though, really life is messy, real achievements take time and usually require a big re-evaluation of circumstances and a lot of commitment and willpower. Food delivered to you in minutes is never going to be good for you, instant pay day loans carry astronomical interest rates, quick weight loss almost invariably comes back with a few extra pounds to boot and what you don’t see after the super nanny has left is what happens one year down the line.

Quick fixes always come at a price, but that price usually comes after the results. With gentle parenting the price comes before the results and that’s something that our society just isn’t used to.

Gentle parenting is hard, it would be easy to slip into ignore/reward/punish mode with toddlers, it would be easy to buy medication or switch to formula to treat an unsettled baby, it would be easy to sleep train for a few nights to get a child sleeping through, but in the long term – each of those easy decision carry risks and disadvantages. Gentle parenting is an investment, an investment into your child’s future as well as your own and those that will follow down the generations, but it’s not quick fix and it’s not easy. Gentle parenting is about respecting your child and understanding their biological and psychological limitations at any one moment in time, it is about behaving in a way that fosters empathy and connection, it’s forward thinking and then some.


Gentle parenting isn’t about instantly soothing crying babies or stopping toddler tantrums in their tracks. Gently parented babies still cry, they still get colic and they still wake frequently at night. Gently parented toddlers still bite, hit, kick and throw and they still don’t eat their vegetables. Gently parented tweens and teens still talk back, still slam doors and still come home after their curfew, but none of this is really what gentle parenting is about.

In time (and that time may be years from now) a gently parented child will enjoy close relationships with their parents and will feel able to share their troubles – whether that be peer pressure, school work concerns or bullying. In time a gently parented child will find it easier to be happy in their own skin and enjoy the confidence to have meaningful relationships with others, they will find it easier to speak their own mind and be in control of their own emotions and in time gently parented children will raise a whole other generation of emotionally intelligent children.

For those who say gentle parenting doesn’t work, perhaps they just need to wait a little longer?


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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
This entry was posted in Babies, Mothering, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlers, Tweens and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to When Gentle Parenting Doesn’t Work

  1. Jo says:

    Well said! I do think there are day to day rewards too, and it’s not all waiting for years to come. It’s not all plain sailing by any means but I do feel I have a better, more harmonious relationship with my child, that is not dominated by yelling and threatening.

  2. True Growth Parenting says:

    Thank you for this! Your post had me nodding like one of those bobble head dogs that some people many (many!) years ago would put on the back shelf in their cars. Every time the car drove over a bump in the road, the dog would nod incessantly nod its head!

    Contrary to popular belief, gentle parenting isn’t for those who want the easy way out…its more suited to those who are in it for the long haul and want their children to truly grow up, rather than just growing older. There is a big difference between those two things.

  3. Roxanne says:

    It makes me so sad that so many people see parenting styles as a recipe for certain behaviors rather than the way in which you relate to your child. I don’t gentle parent because of the results it gets (though I do agree that it does provide wonderful long term results). I gentle parent because it is the appropriate way to treat another human being.

  4. Tasnim says:

    The problem is that people judge by actions and results that can be measured

  5. Natasha says:

    Love the gist of this, and it pretty much sums up my own attitude and reasons for parenting the way I do.
    Why speak about formula and medication in the way you do though calling them “easy decisions” and likening them to a quick fix and not in line with the ideas behind gentle parenting. There’s no need, you can totally have all the parenting values and aims that you discuss, and be a parent that uses formula or has made the decision to give your baby something to help with reflux, say.

  6. A says:

    I agreed until I got to the formula and medication part. Don’t judge. You demean your own values when you take that stance. How do you know how much I struggled? I am selfish and self centered bc I had to go to formula after illness, colic and trying and feeling like a failure at breast feeding? That my child had sensory issues and colic and I carried him non stop for two years, until I burned out and was put on anti depressants? What do you know of my life or indeed those of many mothers who have special struggles that don’t come with the kind of pat judgemental responses that you and other experts give? My situation was unique. I persevered, I made a choice to stay at home with my special needs kid, I have used formula, I have sleep trained when I needed to but I put my kids first. I’m there for my kids first, last and every time they need me during the day. Nothing is perfect but at age 11 and 13 I have two boys now who are great kids who make great choices. The kid with special needs is today an honor student. We all enjoy each other’s company and I’m proud of how they turned out. it’s bc I invested in the early years – despite the formula feeding! Your parenting approach or that of any expert is founded on mostly common sense – not some grand secret. The true test of parenting rigor is not to be found among your garden variety parents crying about sleep and potty training. It’s to be found among mothers who are in the trenches of the special needs world – allergies, autism and mental health. Ask them about sacrifice, perseverance and hard hard choices made to turn life around for their families. Formula feeding and other “quick fixes” as you put it are irrelevant at that point. It’s this kind of unhelpful, unnecessarily rigid thinking that sours me to parenting experts.

  7. Heather says:

    My son is going to go through school with all of these kids he’s pushing around and they are already either scared of him or now band together to plot revenge. All while I empathize with his feelings and speak calmly to him? I hate to say that I am actually starting to think that you can’t apply this parenting style to all situations and personality types. The ‘lasting relationships’ he is forming are unhealthy. Other kids are getting anxiety or simply don’t want to play with him. But I guess if you’re trying to sell a bunch of books, you probably would just outright tell people they’re wrong for thinking that maybe gentle parenting doesn’t always work.

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