People are using gentle parenting to mess with angry older relatives

Generation gap concept.  A young woman and a mature woman look away from each other during conflict or disagreement.  Women stand with their backs to each other.

Basically, the theory is that if adults are acting like children, then you should treat them like one (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

You don’t get to choose your family, as those of us who dread celebratory reunions and events know only too well.

Even if you love your relatives, you may not always agree, which makes table talk uncomfortable at best and downright destructive at worst. Simple small talk can quickly turn into an argument, highlighting generational differences in a pressure cooker situation.

To take the edge off these conflicts, a new trend has emerged among Millennials and Gen Zs; with gentle upbringing to their elder relatives.

The anxious millennial shared a TikTok explaining why he thinks some baby boomers and Gen Xers are showing a lack of emotional maturity because of their upbringing.

Another user, @baddogmiles, commented on the video, “I use gentle parenting techniques on my boomer parents, works like a charm,” which sparked a series of follow-up TikToks.

Gentle parenting is a method that prioritizes two-way communication between a child and their caregiver. For example, instead of punishing them for throwing a tantrum, the parents explain to the child why their behavior might be harmful to themselves and others around them, ask them what upsets them, and discuss how they can do things differently in the future.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Gentle Parenting Book, tells ‘It doesn’t mean you don’t have discipline and boundaries.

“You can still say no, you just don’t punish her. You don’t mock them, you don’t shame them. You only support them.”

However, that is not exactly what is happening here.

In a sketch video, The Anxious Millennial played up how the technique might resonate between a younger adult and a particularly argumentative older relative. “Calm down,” the young character urges in soothing tones while the “Boomer” rages on.

Speaking softly, the Millennial says, “We can take our time, and maybe we can revisit the subject of you attacking our neighbor with a shovel later?” to which the Boomer replies, “He started it.”

The videos are just a little bit of a joke, but highlight the desperation of dealing with a loved one who is argumentative or confrontational.

Essentially, the theory is that adults who act like children should be treated like children, and there’s no point in arguing with someone who can’t express themselves effectively.

On the one hand, it might actually open up conversations between generations and defuse tensions, but on the other hand, you might just annoy the person at the end of “parenting.”

“The difference is that children have developing brains,” says Sarah.

“So what you do with kids in their first three years, but really their first 20 years, the way they are treated has literally wired their brains.

“If you do that to adults who are past their childhood and whose brains are ready, you won’t be able to make the same change that you did with children.”

For some, a touch of humor can help calm a hostile atmosphere, and jokingly exaggerating the parental role as a younger person might highlight unreasonable or irrational behavior.

For others, however, the approach can seem condescending and even escalate the situation.

“I definitely wouldn’t use it to prank her in any way,” adds Sarah. “Because that’s not gentle parenting, it’s the complete opposite of that.”

“Paternalism almost certainly leads to anger, defensiveness, aggression and/or violence,” psychotherapist Noel McDermott told

If you try to humiliate someone or make them feel inferior—even if they’ve been rude or unfair to you—you probably won’t look good.

Noel continues: “It’s important to avoid patronizing and if that’s how you come across, it’s best to stop and reassess the situation.

“Gentle approaches emphasize safety in relationships, while paternalism is about power and control.”

So while you may feel a sense of glee when you put down someone who has done the same thing to you, you need to tread carefully if you really want progress in these relationships.

According to Noel, a gentle approach to emotional moments is a good idea because it creates bonding processes based on reward hormones like dopamine and oxytocin.

“The caveat is that there is a solid risk assessment and there is clarity about the victimization,” he adds. “In intimate relationships, threats or actual violence should never be tolerated.”

In situations where the loved one goes beyond arguing about politics or generational differences and becomes abusive in some way, Noel says, “It’s important to put psychological and physical safety first and to prevent the abuser from accessing themselves and to keep others away.”

Frustrated senior man

There are generational gaps – it’s how you deal with them that matters (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

For less antagonistic family conflicts, he advises “assertive communication” to acknowledge the disagreement and essentially agree, disagree.

Noel says, “Assertive approaches to communication emphasize the equality of differences, so we communicate our differences while acknowledging the right of others to have them.

“The paradox is that we can often achieve the breakthrough of change when we fully accept the rights of difference; The caveat revolves around victimization and power. When views lead to victimization, the abuser must be told to stop sharing them or face consequences. This is in line with societal norms that criminalize hate crimes.

“If the family member who commits the victimization does not stop, they must be punished with, for example, restricted access to family events or restricted access to family members.”

Once you know you won’t change their mind or calm them down, the fleeting pleasure of “dipping in” on the person you’re upset with doesn’t seem worth it.

Unfortunately, some people just rub themselves together the wrong way, and “kid” chats are inevitable these days as different generations mix.

Try to use empathy in your discussions and respect that we all have different lived experiences that influence our viewpoints. Forget soft parenting and jokes and focus on repairing damaged relationships where appropriate.

“It’s about accepting that you’re not going to change them,” says Sarah. “It’s just a matter of understanding and empathizing with where your parents came from.”

She adds: “You grew up in a very different world where nobody talked about emotions, depression and anxiety. They were beaten at home, they were beaten in the classroom.

“You have to understand where they come from and what they bring to the table.”

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