Gentle parenting verses sleep! Can we achieve both as parents?

What do you think of these days when you hear the term gentle parenting? Is it synonymous with or distinct from attachment parenting? In my understanding (and I may be wrong!) attachment parenting is a set of ideals and a way of ‘being’ whereas gentle parenting tends to be an ethos of understanding and connecting with your child to help them learn about life and themselves.

Let me point out – both parenting styles are very positive and an effective loving way of raising a child. There are many other positive parenting styles too and as long as there are some gentle but consistent boundaries in place for the child, a parent will do a great job!

Parents can find zillions of blogs, articles, websites, Facebook groups that will give advice and support with behaviour, parenting style and sleep. There are umpteen free resources out there!

Many parents identify with a gentle parenting style – after all love, comfort, reassurance and joy are the cornerstones of parenting and no-one would describe themselves as not gentle!

So, can we marry sleep coaching, training, improvement, strategies etc (call it what you will) with a loving and gentle parenting approach?

We are bombarded with concerns regarding attachment, emotional literacy, infant mental health, and long-term emotional damage to our children if they experience distress. It makes it hard to see the wood for the trees. No parent would allow their child to do something harmful to themselves and yet denial of the dangerous object or activity causes distress and frustration to that child. It’s called the ‘greater good’ – therefore is there a place for ‘greater good’ in the world of sleep?

The answer to that will depend on where your parenting ethos lies – some will say definitely ‘yes, I need my sleep to function as a parent’ – some will say absolutely ‘no, waking and feeding frequently at night is ‘normal’ into a baby’s second year’. To clarify on this point – yes, it is normal for a lot of babies – but not all of us can function that way.

Is there a middle ground?

In my journey as a sleep coach and small business owner I have watched, downloaded, and googled more marketing hacks than I care to mention! A reoccurring theme is that to be noticed in the ‘online space’ your content has to be divisive – one way or the other – there does not appear to be a market for the middle ground opinion anymore! BTW this does not only appear to be applying to the world of sleep!

And yet the majority of humans do appreciate the middle ground – we are, by nature, a kind, adaptable and compassionate species who thrive on human relationships and companionship – compromise is therefore natural for us.

So, who in the dyad (triad?) of parent and child and sleep issues does the compromising?

Again, this goes back to your parenting ethos – old style methods would ask the baby/child to compromise! Attachment/gentle methods would expect the parent to compromise! Why can’t both parent and baby learn some flexibility and new skills?

We expect our children to learn to walk, talk and share – why can’t we expect them to learn to sleep? By staying with our children as they learn a new way of sleeping, we can support them through the distress and frustration of not knowing how to fall asleep without their old ‘prop’. By gently withdrawing and introducing new methods we build up their confidence in themselves and their environment. Thus, going to bed at bedtime and sleeping an appropriate length of time for their age and development becomes a pleasure rewarded by more enjoyment with their parent the next day. I cannot promise there won’t be tears, frustration and upset and any change to sleep makes it worse before it gets better. However, you may find the compromise is worth it!

Points to consider when looking at your child’s sleep.

  • Consistent boundaries – does your child have some consistent boundaries during the day? Are they having some learning opportunities to tolerate uncomfortable feelings? By this I mean the distress caused by saying ‘no’ to a biscuit just before lunchtime for example!!
  • How do we put gentle boundaries around our child’s sleep? Decide in your family what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example; where do you want your child to sleep, what is an acceptable wake-up time for your family, do you have several bedtimes to manage close together on your own? All these factors determine our evenings and our boundaries.
  • Should we put boundaries on sleep? How old is your child? Do they have any health or development problems? Do you or other carers have any health problems? Are they particularly anxious around bedtime? Place the boundaries in gently at a time which you feel is right for your family.
  • How does putting boundaries in place make you feel? Consider how you feel about being consistent and saying no – does it worry you, frustrate you, or do you see it as a healthy but challenging part of parenting?
  • How does your child’s frustration, tiredness and (dare I say it – distress) make you feel? Our emotions, reactions and subsequent behaviours stem from our past experiences – consider what you can tolerate and gently push yourself in all areas (and not just parenting).
  • Can you help your child tolerate an upsetting situation or do you need to alleviate it at all costs? Linked to the point above – if you find your child’s distress intolerable it may be time for some deep thinking or chatting through with a loved one or trusted friend or professional. Often what we wish for our children stems from our own childhood and upbringing.
  • Is your child’s sleep pattern common?  Read here for more information on naps and sleep needs. I use the term ‘common’ rather than normal as ‘normal’ implies a parent must accept this behaviour indefinitely – some can, and some can’t –there is no shame in this. If your child’s sleep is appropriate for what they can reasonably manage for their age and development then consider strategies to help your own sleep, relaxation and enjoyment of your days. If not, then consider making some changes.

Author: Rachel Greaves, Goodnight Solutions 2020


Rachel Greaves is a registered midwife and public health nurse, a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants, World Sleep Society and British Sleep Society. She has completed extensive training in paediatric sleep and has worked with hundreds of families over her NHS career. She works privately at Goodnight Solutions and specialises in gentle family sleep support. Rachel now offers online sleep coaching providing individual support over a 4-week period. Visit for more information.