5 Generational Parenting Patterns to Break Starting Today

How to Break Generational Parenting Patterns Stock photo of large family gathering, including 3 generations. suchalittlewhile.com

Are you among the 44% of parents striving to break generational parenting patterns? If you want to turn over a new leaf and spark healthy social-emotional development for your child, you’re in the right place.

In this post, we’ll explore the top 5 harmful generational parenting patterns that tend to be passed down within families.

By learning new skills to bypass these patterns, we can pave the way for more connected, emotionally healthy relationships with our kids.

What are generational parenting patterns?

Generational parenting patterns are discipline tactics, parent communication styles, and family relationship dynamics often passed down from generation to generation within families.

Parenting patterns often stem from cultural traditions, societal norms, and individual family factors.

Generational Parenting Patterns to Break:

"Gentle parenting is a lifestyle that encompasses both your physical and psychological behavior, not only towards your children, but to yourself too."

-Quote by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, The Gentle Parenting Book


We are hard-wired to repeat the behaviors and attitudes we learned from our upbringing. However, consciously challenging unhealthy parenting patterns can help us build more connected relationships with our children and can even make an impact on our children’s children!

The great news is that no generation of parents has had access to so much evidence-based data on healthy parenting practices and the long-term outcomes they yield for kids. Now that we know better, we can do better.

5 Essential Ways to Eliminate Unhealthy Generational Parenting Patterns

It takes dedication, perseverance, and courage to rewrite the script for your family. If you’re here striving to break generational parenting patterns, know you are already a hero in our book!

Let’s dive into the top 5 unhealthy discipline patterns that tend to be passed down in families:

Generational Parenting Patterns to Break: "5 Essential Generational Parenting Patterns to Break. (1) Shutting Down Big Emotions. "Stop crying- there's nothing to be upset about." (2) Arbitrary Punishments that Don't Teach Skills. Ex: Taking away dessert. (3) Authoritarian Stance. "You'll do it because I said so." (4) Not Apologizing. After loosing your cool. (5) Lack of Self-Awareness. Ex: Experiencing parenting burnout and not taking action. More information at: suchalittlewhile.com" Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

#1: Shutting Down Emotions

Do phrases like “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” or “There’s no reason to be upset!” sound familiar?

If so, you have an excellent opportunity to foster a healthier relationship with feelings for your child.

Why are these statements harmful? Suppressing emotions can often lead to internalizing behaviors (e.g., low self-worth, anxiety) and externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggression, bullying) in children.

"Empathy not only matters; it is the foundation of effective parenting."

-Quote by Dr. John Gottman

graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

When we validate our children’s feelings, rather than stifling them, we lay the foundation for healthy coping skills by teaching them how to first identify their emotions.

Here are some key ways to validate your child’s feelings. Note: It is always okay to affirm feelings (even if you cannot condone the behavior that accompanied it).

  • “It makes sense to feel disappointed.”
  • “It’s okay to cry.”
  • “You’re allowed to feel mad about ____.”

By validating your child’s emotions, they will be more likely to run to you, rather than from you when they need support and guidance, thus leading to opportunities to teach those coping and problem-solving skills.

#2: Using an authoritarian stance for discipline

While at times it’s tempting to say, “Do it because I said so!” in those tough patterning moments, we can all strive for better.

Here is the truth: Fear-based authoritarian parenting can “work” in the moment by exerting control and coercion over a child, but it comes with a host of negative long-term consequences.

Consider, do you want your child blindly following other forms of authority throughout their life? Or would you rather them acquire the confidence to generate original ideas and to question things that don’t feel safe or kind?

Generational Parenting Patterns to Break

Venn Diagram: Permissive parenting is the first circle, "kind."  Authoritarian parenting is the second circle, "firm."  Authoritative, "positive" parenting lies in the middle, "kind AND firm."*

*"kind and firm" concept originiates from Dr. Jane Nelson's Positive Discipline Framework.

grahpic by suchalittlewhile.com

By using an authoritative (“kind and firm”) approach to discipline, we allow the opportunity for our kids to gain intrinsic motivation. 

In other words, kids become empowered to make choices because they believe they are the right and kind thing to do.  Children are also afforded the chance to make and learn from their mistakes.

#3: Arbitrary Punishments That Don’t Teach Skills

Generational Parenting Patterns to Break

Types of Consequences:

Arbitrary (adult-imposes)

Natural (directly relates to behavior, in line with positive parenting)

Logical (directly relates to behavior, adult-imposed, in line with positive parenting*)

*Punishment-based consequences are not aligned with positive discipline.

Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

Arbitrary punishments have no connection to the behavior of concern. For example, taking away a child’s dessert because they broke a sibling’s toy.

This weak link between cause and effect typically yields poor results for changing a child’s future behavior and fostering an intrinsic motivation for change.

Positive parents instead opt for natural and logical consequences.

Consequences Explained: Imagine your child purposefully broke her brother's new toy.

Arbitrary: Tell her she can't have dessert tongith.

Logical: Ask her to make things right by replacing the toy with money from her piggy bank.

Natural:  Recognize and affirm that her brother is upset and no longer wants to play with her until he calms downs.

Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

Here is a key example: Let’s say your child breaks their sibling’s toy.

Logical consequences relate directly to the undesired behavior and are used to teach a new skill rather than to punish.

Natural consequences occur on their own without adult intervention.

While there are countless positive parenting tools outside of consequences, natural consequences are the most preferred form of consequences because they hold the strongest link between cause and effect.

Generational Parenting Patterns to Break: A dad and his son hugging tightly.

#4: Not apologizing

Did your parent(s) regularly acknowledge or apologize for their mistakes growing up?  If not, imagine for a moment that they did. How might that have felt for you?

Rest assured, every parent has said or done things they aren’t proud of and would not want their children repeating.

At the same time, rather than sweeping these undesirable moments under the rug, use your missteps as opportunities to model for your child essential problem-solving skills.

Generational Parenting Patterns to Break:

Lost your cool? Forgive yourself, then acknowledge, apologize, act. It's an opportunity to teach your child how to grow through mistakes."

graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

I try to rely on this tried-and-true customer service response I learned in my waitressing days: “Acknowledge, apologize, act”.

In other words:

  1. Own up to what happened
  2. Say sorry
  3. Briefly explain what you will do differently next time

For example, “I realize I raised my voice at you earlier and I’m sorry. I’m going to work on better handling my frustration. Next time, I will wait until everyone is calm before talking about _____.”

While apologizing often requires stepping outside of our comfort zone, it is one of the most impactful generational parenting patterns to break.

#5: Lack of Self-Awareness

.Like the generations of parents before us, we are often busy, tired, and stretched thin while trying to foster a great life for our children. With parenting stress comes a responsibility to stay self-aware and engage in self-care.

Are you spiraling towards (or already in) a state of burnout? Know that your stress levels can have a significant impact on your child(ren), often leading to behavioral and mental health concerns.

How to break generational parenting patterns:

Recent research found that parents who try to suppress their feelings of stress may ultimately pass those emotions onto their kids.

Graphic by suchalittlewhile.com

I invite you to learn key ways to manage parenting stress here.

Generational Parenting Patterns to Break: A mom with tattoos kissing her baby on the cheek.

The last thing you need to know about generational parenting patterns to break

If reading about breaking generational parenting patterns has stirred up significant feelings or memories for you, know you’re not alone. Your inner child deserves the same love and support you are striving to give your child! 

Consider talking to a professional who can support you in “reparenting” that inner child and turning over a new leaf with positive parenting practices.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the courage it takes to challenge old habits and beliefs. In case you haven’t heard it from anyone else, I want to thank you. I know you aren’t always perfect (no one is), and that’s okay. You are a hero for generations to come.

I invite you to stick around and learn more about effective, respectful parenting practices here at Such a Little While. We think you’ll love learning about:

Managing Routines & Transitions in Early Childhood: Positive Parenting Challenge PDF Workbook by Such a Little While

Graphic of free PDF workbook.  Text Reads "Positive Parenting Challenge 3.0, must-know positive discipline do's & dont's, 30 powerful, easy-to-follow tips & tools, unlock 10 key features of positive parenting, customizable parenting solutions, master the art of effective consequences).

    You’ve got this!

    My toddler refuses to brush their teeth blot post, written by Tana from Such a Little While
    Hi, I’m Tana! I’m a mom, certified positive parent educator, and former school counselor. It’s my mission to help you foster social/emotional wellness through positive parenting.

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