At some point in our childhood, many of us promised ourselves that we would never treat our own children the way we were treated. However, when we became parents, our perspective shifted.
We began to understand why our parents made certain decisions, and our priorities changed as we moved from being the child to the caregiver.
Parents must consider more factors in their decision-making than children. We start to act or sound like our own parents.
Unfortunately, this change in perspective sometimes leads us to do things that even a child knows are not right, such as yelling at or hitting our kids.
Understanding parenting challenges and responsibilities does not excuse the mistreatment of children. Most of us know this but don’t know how else to parent because that’s the only parenting style we’ve experienced.
There is a fear that if we don’t discipline the way people have done for generations, we will risk raising a problem child or, worse, a failure.
Break The Cycle Of Childhood Trauma
Not everyone desires to parent differently than their parents, and that’s completely fine.
But there is hope for those who have experienced childhood trauma and wish to parent differently to break the trauma cycle.
Breaking away from the negative patterns of disciplining children is possible by making conscious and deliberate parenting choices.
With the right mindset and tools, anyone can choose to parent in a way that prioritizes the well-being and happiness of their children1.
How To Not Become Like Your Parents
1. Think Differently
The first step to parent differently is to think differently.
Making changes is scary. There’s a certain comfort in adhering to “traditional” methods, especially concerning parenting. These methods have been passed down through generations and have become deeply ingrained in our collective psyche. They provide security and familiarity, making them appear as “safer” options.
But “traditional” doesn’t mean it’s good or right.
Women “traditionally” belonged to the kitchen. This notion was widely accepted and rarely questioned for a long time. However, as society has evolved and progressed, we’ve come to understand that these “traditional” roles are both limiting and unjust.
Absurd ideas at one point in time may become “no-brainer” decisions once people realize their benefits.
When we think differently and creatively, new possibilities emerge.
2. Pick a clear parenting goal
Parenting is about making tradeoffs in our daily lives to meet our parenting goals.
But parents are often greedy, and they want everything.
We have numerous aspirations for our children: good behavior, kindness, happiness, hard work, self-motivation, success, and a close relationship with us. We want all of them.
But which one of these is the most important to you?
There are times we cannot have it all. We need to prioritize and make a conscious choice.
Parents who are unclear about their parenting priorities often pick the wrong ones and face problems down the road.
For example, if a child doesn’t do their chores and the parent punishes them, their priority is compliance. If a child doesn’t get good grades and their parent takes away their privilege, their priority is the child’s success.
When punishment is used as a disciplinary strategy, compliance and success are prioritized over kindness, mental health, and a strong relationship.
When their children grow up, they may not have healthy relationships with their parents. Some adult children even cut off their parents and are estranged from them. These may be very successful people, but they don’t want to have anything to do with their parents. In a way, their parents have successfully achieved their goals, but they might regret picking the wrong ones.
Parenting is one of the most significant sources of regret in life2. Pick a clear goal that you won’t have regrets.
Choosing the one goal you want the most doesn’t imply you’re giving up all the others.
For instance, choosing your child’s mental health over success doesn’t equate to setting your child up for failure. Instead, it means you help them succeed through other methods that preserve and strengthen their mental well-being. This method might seem non-traditional and yield slower results, but it doesn’t damage your child’s well-being in the way that punitive punishment could.
3. Avoid Catastrophic Thinking
“Are we supposed to use permissive parenting – be kind to our children, let them run into the street, and get hit by cars?”
Of course not.
Even those who want to break the family trauma cycle may hesitate to abandon punishment. They want kindness, happiness, and relationships, but they don’t want their children to be a failure.
One common sign of childhood trauma is that these individuals tend to have a negative view of the world and use catastrophic thinking.
When you grow up miserable, it is natural to assume the worst. But it is different now. You can influence how your child sees the world. When you start seeing things positively, they will perceive the world positively, become motivated, and strive to be their best.
Punishment is not necessary to motivate children. It also instills the wrong kind of motivation.
But if you can abandon catastrophic thinking, practice positive parenting, and build a close relationship with your child, they will care about what you care about. If you care about their future, they will, too.
4. Support autonomy
It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to discipline children is to empower them to discipline themselves.
Autonomy is one of the three innate human desires besides basic survival needs. It is a person’s ability to make decisions and control their lives.
When children feel that their autonomy is being compromised or excessively controlled, it can lead to frustration and resentment. This is often the underlying cause of rebellious behavior in children. They are not merely acting out to be difficult; they are striving to assert their autonomy, to have some control over their own lives.
Supporting a child’s own autonomy does not mean giving them free rein to do whatever they want. It means they can make decisions with your guidance in most aspects of their lives.
Parents won’t have control over their children forever. Sooner or later, they will make their own decisions. A child who has never made one themselves will be lost.
Rather than controlling them, teach them the skills to make sound decisions. Lay out the pros and cons in real life without the threat of punishment from you. Explain the repercussions of their decisions. If they insist on making a wrong decision even after your explanation, if it’s not harming someone or something, let them experience the natural consequences.
That’s the way children will make decisions when they grow up. It’s a good idea to let them practice now under your guidance.
5. Be Flexible
There’s no requirement to use a single strategy for every disciplinary situation. So supporting autonomy doesn’t mean you should allow them the freedom to choose everything.
Being flexible means accepting that there are various disciplinary strategies. Some prioritize autonomy, while others prioritize safety. You can respond to each scenario differently and find the most appropriate solution to meet your parenting goals.
For instance, when dealing with situations like skipping homework, which is not life-threatening, using inductive discipline tends to be more effective3. Give them good reasons, help them understand why they should do what you suggest, and then let them decide what to do.
If your child repeatedly neglects their studying, allowing them to experience the natural consequences can help them understand that they are real.
But when a child’s actions threaten themselves or others, you must restrain them physically, like hugging them, even against their will.
These examples demonstrate how to flexibly teach a child using different discipline techniques in different situations without harming the parent-child relationship or acting harshly.
6. Be a Role Model
Parental influence is essential. Children develop their values, beliefs, and attitudes through watching adults. That is social learning.
If you are faced with unexpected situations and don’t know how to react, a helpful approach is to consider the behavior you want your child to display and then model it for them4,5. Create a role reversal in your mind. Show them how you want them to behave by doing it yourself.
For instance, if you want them to stay calm and respectful when they disagree, maintain a calm and respectful demeanor toward them, even if you think they’re being disrespectful. If you, on the other hand, show anger or hostility, you teach them that these are appropriate responses when you dislike the other’s behavior.
Be the person you want your child to become.
7. Be Confident
Pursuing a different approach to parenting can be a rewarding but challenging journey, especially when faced with criticism from other family members or judgment from family friends.
Staying true to your values and having a clear parenting goal can help you be confident about your choices.
If others’ negativity creates a lot of pressure for you, consider the impact of other people’s toxic behaviors on you and your child.
If your spouse disagrees or has a different point of view on parenting issues, consider getting family therapy.
Making a conscious effort to parent differently is aspirational, but it’s natural to feel daunted by the responsibility involved.
Embracing a new parenting style will be challenging, but you can positively impact your child’s life with determination and support.
If you have difficulty adopting alternative parenting strategies on your own or need more support, It’s best to seek help from a clinical psychologist or other mental health professionals.
There are no perfect parents, but there are plenty of ways to be a good parent.
Become the parent you wish you had when you were a child.
- 1.Woods-Jaeger BA, Cho B, Sexton CC, Slagel L, Goggin K. Promoting Resilience: Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Health Educ Behav. Published online February 12, 2018:772-780. doi:10.1177/1090198117752785
- 2.Roese NJ, Summerville A. What We Regret Most… and Why. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. Published online September 2005:1273-1285. doi:10.1177/0146167205274693
- 3.Barnett MA, Quackenbush SW, Sinisi CS. Factors Affecting Children’s, Adolescents’, and Young Adults’ Perceptions of Parental Discipline. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. Published online December 1996:411-424. doi:10.1080/00221325.1996.9914875
- 4.Draxten M, Fulkerson JA, Friend S, Flattum CF, Schow R. Parental role modeling of fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks is associated with children’s adequate consumption. Appetite. Published online July 2014:1-7. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.02.017
- 5.O’Riordan DL, Geller AC, Brooks DR, Zhang Z, Miller DR. Sunburn reduction through parental role modeling and sunscreen vigilance. The Journal of Pediatrics. Published online January 2003:67-72. doi:10.1067/mpd.2003.mpd039