Gentle Parenting vs Traditional Parenting: What are the Differences & How to Incorporate Both

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"Whether you choose to embrace gentle parenting, traditional parenting, or a combination of both, effective communication, consistent discipline, and balanced autonomy are crucial components of any parenting style."

Gentle Parenting vs Traditional Parenting

Every family has their own unique approach to setting boundaries, enforcing rules, and implementing discipline. When you have a child who struggles with anxiety or an attention disorder, you may have to combine parenting approaches to meet the unique needs of your child. Gentle parenting and traditional parenting offer two distinct paths to raising your children, but is one better than the other? And is it possible to combine the best of both styles? Read on to find out.

What is Gentle Parenting?

Gentle parenting is an approach rooted in empathy, understanding, and responsiveness. It focuses on building a strong emotional connection with your child and encouraging cooperative, age-appropriate behavior rather than enforcing strict rules. Where traditional parenting might focus on punishment and reward, gentle parenting focuses on helping your child improve their self-awareness and understanding of their own behavior. While a traditional parent might see themselves as the boss or disciplinarian, the gentle parent might see themselves as a helpful guide or coach.

Most psychologists and pediatric healthcare professionals agree that gentle parenting is one of the most beneficial parenting strategies because it not only positively impacts your child’s mental and emotional health, but it can also have long-term effects on the relationship you’re establishing with them.1

Gentle parenting can be especially useful for children with mood disorders, attention disorders, or learning differences. Because while time-outs and sticker charts might work for some children, it can be harder to use with a child who struggles with emotional regulation or executive function skills. A time-out can make a sensory meltdown far worse. A sticker chart with long-term rewards can fail to be motivating for a kid who struggles with delayed gratification. Taking a gentle parenting approach means coming up with tools and strategies together to help them manage their behavior and letting your child know that you’re always there to guide and support them.

Some benefits of gentle parenting:

  • Child feels respected by parents, which establishes trust.
  • Child learns valuable communication skills.
  • Child learns to empathize and that aggression isn’t the best answer to life’s challenges.
  • Child learns how to regulate their own emotions and is less vulnerable to experiencing anxiety.2

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What is Traditional Parenting?

Similar to the authoritative parenting approach, traditional parenting follows a more structured and rule-based approach. It emphasizes authority and discipline to guide children’s behavior. Traditional parents set firm boundaries, enforce rules, and believe in the importance of instilling respect for authority and obedience. In addition to obeying authority, traditional parenting also comes with the expectation to comply with their specific cultural beliefs and values.3

Though traditional parenting can be highly demanding, it should not be confused with the authoritarian parenting style, which is rigid and non-responsive. Traditional parents, like authoritative parents, value warmth and responsiveness, but they will not engage in democratic discussions. This lack of communication is what sets it apart from the authoritative style.

Some parents who use the traditional parenting style use punishment as an enforcement for good behavior, including time-outs, grounding, taking away toys, etc. If you have a child with ADHD, it’s important to rethink your discipline strategies if you employ a punishment-reward system. Studies show parenting that is less harsh when it comes to punishment is linked to improved behavior in kids with ADHD as well as improved biological function.4 

Some benefits of traditional parenting:

  • Child is more likely to have higher academic achievements than children with authoritarian parents.
  • Child is less likely to have behavioral issues or psychological problems (also compared to authoritarian parenting).
  • This style fosters closeness between parent and child. 

Additional Parenting Styles

Beyond gentle and traditional parenting, there are various other parenting styles, such as:

  • Authoritative parenting: Combines warmth and support with clear expectations and boundaries. This style is neither too lenient or too strict.
  • Authoritarian parenting:  Highly demanding and strict, authoritarian parents are often critical and offer little praise. This type of parenting is driven by fear and discipline. 
  • Permissive parenting: Characterized by a high level of warmth and low demand for control, permissive parenting focuses on the child’s freedom. Though warm and affectionate, permissive parents often fail to establish age-appropriate boundaries and enforce any type of discipline.
  • Uninvolved parenting: Involves minimal emotional involvement and demands, providing children with substantial independence but little guidance.
  • Helicopter parenting: Involves intense focus on a child's life, often leading to overprotection and limited independence.

Integration Tips for Both Parenting Styles

Here are some ways to integrate the best of both gentle and traditional parenting styles into your family life: 

  • Model the kind of behavior you want to see in your children. If you shout and curse when you’re feeling frustrated, this is what your child will learn to do. If you practice mindfulness and communicate your frustrations, then it’s likely so will your child.
  • Instead of communicating what you don’t want your child to do, tell them what you do want them to do. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t run down the stairs!” you can try, “Can you please walk down the stairs?”
  • Reward positive behavior to encourage your child to continue behaving positively. 
  • Validate your child’s feelings, even when they’re having a tantrum.
  • Know your child’s triggers and plan ahead for negative  behavior to respond calmly and more efficiently in stressful situations.
  • Set clear boundaries, expectations, and limits and be consistent when enforcing them.  
  • Consider establishing daily routines, including consistent wake-up times and bedtimes. This is especially helpful if your child struggles with anxiety or ADHD, as having a predictable routine can help minimize chaos and confusion. 

Adapting to Your Child’s Individual Needs

Every child is different, and understanding their individual needs is paramount. Take into account their temperament, communication style, and response to discipline. Tailor your approach to provide the necessary support while encouraging personal growth. 

If your child struggles with anxiety, an attention disorder, a learning difference, or has other unique challenges, you may find that more structure and guidance is needed. For instance, a child with ADHD may have a harder time connecting their behaviors to consequences. And some of their behavior may be the result of not having appropriate coping skills for their symptoms. While it’s essential to employ simple and firm discipline (without harsh punishment) consistently for them to understand the connection between their behavior and your consequences, it’s just as important to teach them skills and strategies to help manage their emotions and their behavior more effectively. 

No matter what parenting style you choose to use, you can help support their physical and mental health and reduce symptoms like irritability, restlessness, and stress by instilling healthy lifestyle habits at home. This includes following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, controlling screen time, and practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques. And if you feel they still need more support, you can consider trying a non-prescription medication like Brillia, which is clinically proven to reduce symptoms associated with anxiety and ADHD without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects. Containing targeted antibodies to the brain-specific S100B protein, Brillia promotes calmness and clarity without affecting any other systems in the body, inducing drowsiness, or masking the personality in any way. As part of Brillia’s holistic approach, the medication works best when combined with the healthy lifestyle habits we mentioned above, which teach your child how to self-regulate and manage their symptoms long-term. Learn more about how Brillia works.

Utilizing Effective Communication, Positive Discipline & Balanced Autonomy

Whether you choose to embrace gentle parenting, traditional parenting, or a combination of both, effective communication, consistent discipline, and balanced autonomy are crucial components of any parenting style. Here’s how to integrate all three:

  • Effective communication: Establish an open line of communication where your child feels heard and understood. Encourage them to express their thoughts and emotions.
  • Positive discipline: Focus on guiding your child through positive reinforcement and constructive feedback rather than harsh, punitive measures. Encourage problem-solving skills.
  • Balanced autonomy: Allow your child appropriate independence, fostering self-confidence and decision-making skills within a safe framework.

Secondary Resources

Seeking outside help is highly encouraged if you’re struggling to find a parenting style that works for your family. Consulting a therapist or counselor, for you or your child (or both), can help you come up with a personalized strategy to parenting in a way that suits your child’s needs best while still acknowledging your own personal values. Connect with other parents, look up local workshops, or even explore online forums to gain insights and perspectives from experienced parents and professionals. Don’t be afraid to evolve your parenting style as your child grows and be gentle on yourself when unexpected challenges arise. No parent is perfect and there are bound to be obstacles along the way. Don’t forget to nurture yourself when doing your best to nurture your child.

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References: 1, 2, 3, 4
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