Gentle, Attachment, and Mindful Parenting Styles: What’s the Difference?
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Gentle, Attachment, and Mindful Parenting Styles: What’s the Difference?

There are many parenting styles out there. How do you know which to use? Here is a breakdown of three parenting styles and their differences.

Published March 2, 2022

by Kristen Winiarski

Medically reviewed by Quinn Kelly

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Like children, there are many different personalities, and there are also many different parenting styles. It can be hard to know which one is best for you and your children without knowing what sets each style apart. With all the terminology and fancy words like gentle, mindfulness, and attachment, you may be left confused about what it all means and what style you want to follow.

Most parents find their own way of doing things. But you may be surprised to find that your natural parenting style might already be using a few particular parenting styles without you knowing it. Understanding the different philosophies can be helpful so you can learn techniques to enhance and support what you’re already doing.

Popular Parenting Styles: What’s the Difference?

If you are looking for a type of parenting that involves mutual respect between parents and their children, you may consider the parenting styles below:

Gentle Parenting

Gentle parenting rejects forcing your child to behave through punishment. Instead, it focuses on these three Cs: connection, communication, and consistency. This parenting style avoids traditional discipline methods like yelling or sending a child to their room. Gentle parenting encourages age-appropriate discipline like redirecting or allowing natural consequences to occur.

Core concepts:

  • Setting boundaries that emphasize safety
  • Showing your kids respect and understanding
  • Spelling out expectations
  • Empathizing with your children

This parenting style is often focused on teaching life lessons instead of punishment. This philosophy also teaches kids how to express their feelings constructively and encourages parents to respond with empathy, promoting better behavior from children.

The benefits of this style also include reducing anxiety and encouraging shy toddlers to regulate their responses to new environments through warm parental responses.1 Parents remain calm and gentle, encouraging kids to do the same while teaching them empathy.

Attachment Parenting

Attachment parenting emphasizes the need for children to be close to a caregiver that is available and accessible to them. This theory is based on the belief that habits like skin-to-skin contact and physical closeness with your baby help them feel safe and strengthen their ability to trust and attach well to others as they grow. This parenting style is based on research that shows the damaging effects of separation from a loving caregiver in the early years of life.2

Core concepts:

This philosophy is driven by the understanding that physical closeness also helps foster emotional closeness. By being close to your baby, you learn their signals and better identify what they need. As your baby’s needs are met, they gain the confidence that their caregiver will meet their needs. This builds emotionally secure kids that grow into autonomous adults.

Attachment parenting often involves the core concepts listed above. While not everyone feels comfortable with each point, you can determine which ones feel right for you. Skin-to-skin contact is one method that is encouraged right at birth. Breastfeeding is also facilitated. Breastfeeding promotes healthy attachment between mother and baby since it produces prolactin and oxytocin in the mother, which helps them bond with their baby.

Bed-sharing can be a hot-button issue, but there are ways to do it correctly to help preserve safety. Instead of having your baby in bed with you, many parents choose to have their baby sleep in the same room as them. As you decide what attachment techniques make the most sense for your family, remember the main goal is to foster a parenting relationship through physical touch, empathy, and responsiveness. This can look different from one family to the next.

Mindful Parenting

It is no secret that kids can be overwhelming and frustrating for even the most patient parents. This often leads to parents reacting and yelling instead of responding calmly. Mindful parenting focuses on using heavy amounts of self-regulation and learning to respond instead of reacting.3

Core concepts:

  • Being aware and present during interactions
  • Non-judgment toward self and child
  • More self-regulating and less reactive as a parent
  • Showing your child empathy
  • Accepting your children for who they are

Mindful parenting focuses on the notion that we can control our reaction to their misbehavior because we can’t expect our kids always to behave. It is about being compassionate, thinking before you respond, and accepting your and your child’s feelings without judgment. Kids mirror back what they see in us. So, being kind and not yelling are essential in helping to teach them how to deal with their emotions.

Mindful parenting also focuses on listening to our children since children know when we are attuned to their needs and when we are tuning them out. This style encourages empathy, which helps children become kinder and more compassionate as they grow. As parents work to embrace mindfulness in their parenting, they often begin to experience benefits in their own lives, too.

Find the Philosophy That Fits Your Family

As we close, I want to remind you that no one is a perfect parent all of the time when it comes down to it. One of the philosophies above may not fit you exactly. But you may find the benefit in mixing and matching some of the ideas to strengthen your parenting.

You may also feel like you are alone and fumbling around while figuring out the best way to parent your kids. But remember – we’re all in this together. As you find out what style of parent you want to be, don’t forget to give yourself some grace. Try to be in the moment because those are some of the best things we can do for ourselves and our kids no matter what approach we choose.

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Kristen N. Winiarski spends much of her days battling her kids' hangry moods with bacon and Cookie Monster impressions. She also encourages dance parties as P.E. whenever possible. Kristen started… Read more

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