Gentle Parenting: the Myths, the Misquotes and the Mis-reporting.

Yesterday I was contacted by a journalist who was writing an article for The Sun newspaper (a large UK newspaper) asking me about gentle parenting for an article. This would have been a good opportunity to present a factual, evidence based article, instead she went down the route of stereotyping and poking fun in the name of entertainment.

HERE is the article that this journo wrote, after I spent a good chunk of time sending her responses to her questions yesterday, you’ll note she didn’t even reference ‘The Gentle Parenting Book’ correctly! Sometimes I really feel like giving up.

HERE is the article shared on The Sun’s Facebook page. You can see that most of the comments are from people who, thanks to this article now believe gentle parenting has 1. no discipline, 2. no boundaries, 3. no routine, 4. no rules, 5. the child is always in control and 6. the parents are lazy. I did try to respond to the comments until The Sun blocked me from their page!

Below is the email the journo sent, and my replies to her questions. You can see that in the article, she cherry picked quotes out of context and conveniently missed out comments about discipline and scientific evidence.


Hey Sarah,

I’m writing a feature about the rise of gentle parenting. I have a load of questions if that’s ok!

Journo: Why do you do gentle parenting?

Me: In short, because nothing else works, or makes sense. I treat my children how I would like to be treated myself. When they are little you may be able to scare them by shouting at them, smacking them, sending them to their room, taking things away from them or rewarding them with stickers and the like. When you have older children, especially teenagers who are bigger than you, this ‘fear of God’ parenting, or constant bribery just doesn’t work, this is why so many parents struggle with the teen years. I absolutely love them, I have really close relationships to my teenagers and we resolve any issues by talking.

Aside from this type of parenting feeling instinctively right (and everything else feeling wrong), there is a mountain of scientific evidence supporting the idea that the most effective parenting focusses on empathy, connection, respect and support. I love that my instinct is backed by neuroscience.

Journo: Is it true ‘gentle parents’ always ask their child for permission before being touched?

Me: No, sadly there are many myths surrounding gentle parenting, most of what you see or read in the media is a complete fallacy. We’re not all vegetarians, we don’t all have dreadlocks or henna tattoos, we don’t all homeschool and we don’t all breasfeed. Once again, we treat our children how we would like to be treated ourselves. I love to be hugged, kissed, to have my hand held, or to have a pat on the back if I’ve done well. This sort of touch is spontaneous, how on earth would you not do it? What we do do however is to make sure that our children are happy with being asked to touch people. A classic example is “give uncle a kiss goodbye”, so many children are forced to kiss relatives against their will. If the child says “I don’t want to kiss him” then we would respect that, just as we would if another adult said “I don’t want to kiss you”, we wouldn’t force it.

Journo:Do gentle parents ever tell off their children?

Me: This is quite a poorly worded question. We don’t “tell off” our children, “telling off” is ineffective. If someone “tells you off” you instantly stop listening to them, imagine your boss “giving you a telling off”, you don’t respond well. We DO discipline our children, of course, but we do it mindful of their brain development and age, with clear reasons and goals for the outcome, this may involve talking with them, using consequences of some form, setting and enforcing boundaries, or showing them what to do. Whatever we do, it’s all about teamwork, the parent stays calm, so there is no shouting or hitting. If you want to make somebody behave better the worst thing you can make them do is feel worse. Again, really it’s all about thinking how we would feel in that situation. We are not pushovers, or permissive, our discipline is just more informed and more intelligent than just ‘telling off’.

Journo: Do you have to start gentle parenting from birth?

Me: No, for many people they just do gentle parenting naturally. I often think it is ridiculous that it has a specific name or label! Other people instinctively feel that this is how they want to parent, but society says they should do otherwise, so they get sucked into a cycle of punishing and rewarding their children, or trying to enforce independence well before the child is ready. That’s really hard, when someone’s heart tells them to do one thing, but their head (or the books they’re reading, or the advice they are being given) says to do something else.

Some people turn to gentle parenting with school aged children, or some with teenagers, when it becomes apparent that fear and control based parenting just doesn’t work. Obviously the earlier the better when it comes to starting, but it is never too late. Many people find it actually helps their adult relationships too!


Is it any wonder that the public have such an inaccurate view of gentle parenting?

Here are some previous articles that I have written that explain gentle parenting and the science and proof behind it, as well as mythbusting some common misconceptions:

What is Gentle Parenting?

How is Gentle Parenting Different to Mainstream Parenting?

What is Gentle Parenting and Why Should you Try It? (includes lots of research links)

What is Gentle Parenting? An Excerpt from The Gentle Parenting Book

Gentle Parenting and Body Autonomy/Getting Permission to Touch

The Gentle Parenting Book covers this all in a lot more detail and shows you how to apply the principles at each age.




About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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