As millennials have become experienced parents, there has been a clear shift towards a more gentle, respectful approach to parenting that prioritizes attachment and connection. This shift is not only rooted in a desire to do better than previous generations (read: avoid subjecting our children to the childhood trauma we experienced), but also in a growing body of research that supports the benefits of responsive parenting. By being present and responsive to a child’s needs, parents can help build a strong foundation for healthy relationships and emotional well-being.
Research has shown that responsive parenting has a significant impact on a child’s development. One study found that children with responsive parents had stronger social skills and were better able to regulate their emotions (1). Another study found that responsive parenting can even help buffer against the negative effects of stress and trauma (2). By creating a secure attachment with their children, parents can provide a safe haven for their children to explore and learn about the world around them.
Gentle and responsive parenting does a wholly better job at considering a child’s developmental capacity for self regulation, while simultaneously offering a level of respect that adults offer each other. For example, imagine that you got home from work after having a rough day, and your mood impacted the way you were treating others around you. If you sat down to scroll social media, and your partner said that you weren’t allowed access to your phone because of your “behaviour”, you’d likely lose your mind. More likely than not, though, this situation would never play out in the first place, because your partner is likely to recognize that you’re having a hard time and would respect how you are feeling while putting in the effort to help you feel better.
If the same situation played out between an adult and a child, the authoritarian approach of our own childhoods would likely result in elevating the frustration of the child (“you had a shitty day, now let’s take away your toy because you’re not behaving nicely enough to deserve it”), followed by refusing the child the outlet to express their frustration without the consequence of separation (“if you’re going to behave that way, go do it somewhere else by yourself”). Millennial parents have a tendency to lean much more heavily into offering their child the same respect they would offer their peers, while also considering the likelihood that the child doesn’t have the foresight to recognize when they are becoming dysregulated. Offering physical contact in place of punishment goes an incredibly long way, and Millennial parents are seeing this play out in real time.
This deliberately gentle, respectful approach is making enormous strides in breaking the cycle of trauma that has been passed down from previous generations. Many parents today were raised in authoritarian households, where punishment and control were used as a means of discipline. This approach often leads to feelings of fear, shame, and low self-esteem in children, and can contribute to a range of mental health issues later in life. By adopting a more responsive parenting style, parents can create a different dynamic with their children, one that is based on mutual respect and understanding.
Of course, responsive parenting is not always easy, and it can be especially challenging for parents who are trying to break the cycle of trauma from their own childhood. Recognizing our own triggers, while reparenting our inner child helps shift the focus from the notion that our children are giving us a hard time, to the understanding that they are having a hard time and need our coregulation. It can be exhausting to put someone else’s emotional needs above our own, but the rewards of responsive parenting are numerous and long-lasting. By prioritizing attachment and connection, parents can create a strong foundation for their children’s emotional well-being, while also contributing to the healing of generational trauma.
Responsive parenting is a powerful tool for creating strong, healthy relationships between parents and children. By prioritizing connection and attachment, parents can help their children build important social and emotional skills, while also breaking the cycle of trauma that has been passed down from previous generations.
If you are struggling to find parenting solutions that meet your family’s needs? Let’s chat!
- Landry, S. H., Smith, K. E., & Swank, P. R. (2006). Responsive parenting: Establishing early foundations for social, communication, and independent problem-solving skills. Developmental psychology, 42(4), 627.
- Low, J. A., McEwen, C. A., & MacLeod, J. (2013). Adverse childhood experiences and health outcomes: a comparison across low-income, middle-income, and high-income countries. Public health, 127(6), 582-584.