Gentle Parenting: How Effective Is It for Stopping Tantrums?

Gentle Parenting? Positive Toddler Parenting™?

Have you ever wondered how different parenting techniques affect toddler behavior? Today’s episode explores what gentle parenting is and how it compares with my Positive Toddler Parenting™ approach.

We will use hitting as an example to explore how gentle parenting suggests you respond to the behavior, and how my approach guides you to respond. 

Rachel Smith joins the conversation, bringing her personal and professional insights into raising children with empathy and consistency.

The discussion highlights key elements of gentle parenting, such as understanding children’s feelings and providing consistent feedback, while also critiquing common practices that may inadvertently reinforce negative behaviors.

By the end of this episode, you will feel confident to use effective strategies to enhance positive behavior and manage challenges without resorting to punitive measures. Don’t miss this insightful discussion on transforming toddler behavior!


  • What is Gentle Parenting?
  • What the four tenants of gentle parenting are.
  • The key elements of Positive Toddler Parenting
  • The similarities and differences of the two approaches
  • How to use each approach to react to a toddler hitting
  • Some downsides in gentle parenting
  • How to react to hitting using Positive Toddler Parenting

Parenting styles greatly influence child development, and among the many approaches, gentle parenting and Positive Toddler Parenting™  stand out for their unique methodologies. I, Dr. Mary Barbera, an expert in behavioral analysis and child development, am going to explain both methods and navigate how they both address challenges like toddler aggression. 

Understanding Gentle Parenting

Gentle parenting, a term popularized in 2015 with Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s book, “The Gentle Parenting Book,” focuses on nurturing a respectful and empathetic relationship between parents and children. This approach emphasizes positive communication, empathy, consistency, respect for autonomy, non-punitive discipline, and a strong emotional connection.

what is gentle parenting? understanding gentle parenting
Gentle Parenting believes in being empathetic to children after problem behavior, and acknowledging how they feel.

Core Principles of Gentle Parenting:

Four tenants are part of what gentle parenting is. These tenants are what gentle revolves around. 
  • Empathy: Empathy in gentle parenting means striving to see the world through your child’s eyes and understanding their feelings and experiences without judgment. This involves actively listening to the child’s verbal expressions and non-verbal cues and responding with kindness and understanding, rather than punishment or dismissal. This includes validating a child’s feelings. I will discuss in this episode how, I of course agree with empathetic, but discussing feelings directly after hitting or other aggressions, may not be the answer! 
  • Consistency: Consistency is key in gentle parenting, as it provides children with a predictable and secure environment where they know what to expect from their parents. This includes consistent rules, boundaries, and consequences that align with the family’s values. Consistency does not mean rigidity; it allows for flexibility as children grow and their needs evolve.
  • Respect for Autonomy: Respecting a child’s autonomy involves recognizing and nurturing their ability to make choices and have a say in matters that affect them. This tenet teaches children that they are individuals with their own thoughts, desires, and bodies. Parents encourage children to express their opinions and make choices appropriate to their age and maturity level. Allowing autonomy allows children to increase their confidence and independence. 
  • Non-Punitive Discipline:  Non-punitive discipline focuses on teaching and guiding children rather than punishing them. This approach avoids the use of physical punishment, harsh criticism, or any form of shaming. Instead, it employs techniques such as positive reinforcement, setting natural consequences, and problem-solving together. 

Positive Toddler Parenting™: Dr. Barbera’s Approach

If you know my material or have been listening for a while, you are likely thinking that gentle parenting and the Positive Toddler Parentingapproach are fairly similar. While you are correct, the approaches do allign closely in the emphasis on non-violence, and positive reinforcement, there are quite a few significant differences in how i’d recommend to responding to challenging behavior. 

Key Elements of Positive Toddler Parenting™:

  • Minimal Verbal Correction: Recommends minimal verbal interaction during disciplinary moments to avoid reinforcing negative behavior. The rationale behind this is to avoid inadvertently reinforcing the behavior through too much attention. Instead of lengthy explanations or negotiations, a simple, firm “no” or a brief directive can be more effective. This approach helps in reducing the emotional charge of the situation, allowing toddlers to quickly learn that negative behaviors do not yield a rewarding amount of attention.
  • Emotional Control: Maintains that parents should control their emotions to prevent escalating the child’s negative behavior. By remaining calm and composed, parents model the behavior they wish to see in their children. Emotional control also prevents the escalation of the situation, as high emotions can often exacerbate a toddler’s distress or aggressive behavior. This controlled response helps to create a calm and safe environment where toddlers can learn to regulate their own emotions more effectively.
  • Proactive Strategies: Focuses on preventing problematic behaviors through proactive strategies rather than reactive measures. This includes setting up a consistent daily routine, using anticipatory guidance to prepare toddlers for transitions, and creating an environment that minimizes frustration and maximizes opportunities for success. For example, ensuring that a child is not overly tired or hungry can prevent many behavior issues. Additionally, providing appropriate choices to toddlers can give them a sense of autonomy while still guiding their behavior within acceptable bounds. Offering positive reinforcement for behaviors we do want to see when the child is behaving is also important. 

Addressing Toddler Hitting

So let’s discuss, after a child hits, what should you do? During this episode, Rachel and I go through what the gentle parenting approach would have us do if a child hit us, and compare it to how i’d recommend handling hitting using the Positive Toddler Parenting approach. Gentle parenting suggests staying calm, acknowledging the child’s feelings, and gently guiding them towards understanding why hitting is unacceptable. It encourages parents to use moments of aggression as teaching opportunities to foster empathy and better communication skills. 

addressing hitting using both gentle parenting and positive toddler parenting.
Hitting can be frustrating but both Gentle Parenting and Positive Toddler Parenting™ agree that responding calmly after hitting is best.


While I don’t disagree that we should be teaching feelings, and alternative behaviors to hitting, I just don’t think these actions should occur directly after problem behavior, and should be taught throughout the day while preventing problem behaviors and reinforcing positive behaviors we want to see. The more attention we give to the behavior we want to see, the less hitting we should see. 

Conversely, Positive Toddler Parenting suggests a more restrained approach during the act of hitting. It advocates for:

  • Immediate and Calm Intervention: Quick intervention without extensive verbal communication to prevent reinforcing the behavior. “No hitting” and removing yourself from a place where you can be hit quickly acknowledges the behavior and moves forward. 
  • Limited Acknowledgment of Negative Emotions: Avoids discussing or acknowledging negative emotions during or immediately after the incident to not reinforce those emotions. But to discuss and teach these emotions during a more neutral time. 

Apologizing After Hitting

In gentle parenting, there’s an emphasis on teaching children to apologize and make amends, which can help them understand the impact of their actions. I know, it likely makes us all feel better to hear out child say “I’m sorry” after they hit, but does it help? I don’t believe it does and you should be cautious about this practice especially for kids who might have speech delays and/or other developmental delays. Linking apologies to hitting can inadvertently reinforce the hitting behavior if children learn they can hit and then simply apologize to resolve the situation. It also brings a lot more attention to the hitting and the situation which could also provide the child with reinforcement. 

Benefits and Downsides of Gentle Parenting


Ultimately, gentle parenting is a positive approach to parenting much like my approach and some benefits may be that it;
  • Builds a strong emotional foundation by prioritizing the parent-child relationship.
  • Encourages children to become more empathetic and communicative.
Gentle Parenting. Mother talking to daughter and fostering connection. Benefit of Gentle Parenting
Building strong emotional bonds is a benefit of gentle parenting but also something that is easily done in Positive Toddler Parenting™


I believe there are several downsides to using gentle parenting when reacting to problem behavior.  Some downsides include; 
  • May not provide immediate and effective strategies for stopping problematic behaviors in the moment.
  • Risks reinforcing negative behaviors if not applied with careful consideration of the child’s understanding and developmental stage.

Conclusion: Gentle Parenting or Positive Toddler Parenting™

Both gentle parenting and  Positive Toddler Parenting offer valuable insights into raising well-rounded, emotionally intelligent children. The choice between them may depend on the specific needs of the child and the situations at hand. We want to spend most of our time preventing problem behaviors by supporting the child and giving positive reinforcement for behaviors we want to see. I want to highlight the importance of adapting parenting strategies to both prevent and address behavioral issues effectively, ensuring that discipline aligns with developmental goals without reinforcing negative behaviors.

By understanding the nuances between these approaches, parents can equip themselves with a broader toolkit to handle the challenges of parenting with confidence and care.