FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) — Psychologists recognize four main parenting styles: permissive, authoritative, neglectful and authoritarian. However, gentle parenting is gaining traction.

Kallie Kolarik — a Franklin mom of two — drew on her career as a social worker when embarking on her own parenting journey.

“Really learning how to interact with them kind of made me think of how I want to raise my children. And, you know, coming from a place of connection, I think, is what I’m always looking for with my kids. Instead of just trying to control, I want them to have a voice in what we do in our home; I want them to feel respected. I think that by doing so, they will respect me as well,” she said.

Kolarik has been drawn to gentle parenting, which is an approach that has become more popular with families in recent years.

“Gentle parenting is very different than permissive parenting. So, we have a boundary, and we stick to that boundary,” she said. “I let her know that yes, I understand this is hard. You know, I understand that you want a cookie for dinner, but that’s not on the menu tonight.”

It’s hard to find a specific origin or concrete definition for gentle parenting. Some trace it to British author, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who has several books on the topic.

Its general tenants include respecting and validating a child’s feelings, offering choices instead of making demands and keeping your cool.

It’s a sea change from what the psychologists call authoritarian parenting, which uses strict rules, punishments and a ‘because I said so’ approach. Research has shown this style can have a negative effect on children’s emotional development and behavior long-term.

“I don’t want her to be afraid of me,” said Kolarik, “If something ever goes wrong, I don’t want her to say that she’s scared to share with me. I want her to immediately come to me and be like, ‘Hey, I messed up; can you help me?”

“A lot of people think, you know, I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents used. I don’t want to use harsh punishments. And the research definitely does not support using very harsh punishments like spanking, so that is a good change,” said Dr. Cara Goodwin, who has a PhD in child psychology. 

Goodwin said gentle parenting hasn’t been rigorously researched, so there’s no data to prove its effectiveness.

“If it’s working, keep doing it. But because we don’t have research, it’s important for parents to know that if it’s not working, that there are other options,” Goodwin said.

One of those options is time out, which is not used in gentle parenting and has become controversial.

Multiple studies show when used correctly time out can be safe and effective.

It’s approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. But, that doesn’t mean parents have to use time out or that it’s right for every family.

“With gentle parenting, we do a lot more of the time in instead of time out. So you’re talking about things instead of just putting her by herself, because leaving a child just to just cry when they’re confused with what happened just doesn’t feel right to me either,” said Kolarik.

That’s the nuance of parenting, balancing research and what feels right for you and your family.