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To Raise Resilient Kids, Combine 2 Popular Parenting Styles, Says Child Psychologist: Here's How

Asheesh | Twenty20

When it comes to raising kids, some parents feel like they need to commit to one ethos.

If you're a gentle or responsive parent, you validate your child's emotions and de-emphasize consequences. If you're an authoritative parent, you set hard boundaries and focus on following set rules. 

In reality, parenting works best if you mix styles, says Mona Delahooke, child psychologist and author of "Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids." 

"The hype around parenting styles has taken us away from the more relevant question: 'What does my child need at this moment?'" Delahooke says. 

While your child will always need you to provide some emotional safety, sometimes they will also need more rigid guidance. 

"Kindness and firmness are not oil and water," she says. "They can go together." 

How to be a 'gentle' parent and an 'authoritative' one at the same time

No research is "complex" enough to answer the question, "Which parenting style is best?" Delahooke says. 

Instead, parents should focus on responding to their child's needs. More often than not, this will look like a mix of gentle, responsive, and authoritative parenting. 

"We don't have to be harsh or cruel, but we can hold those non-negotiable boundaries." she says. 

Let's say your child is having a melt-down because you and your co-parent are going on a date night without them. Here is how Delahooke would approach this situation:

  1. Help your child handle their emotions. "Instead of just walking away or admonishing them for their reaction, you take a few minutes to 'co-regulate' and through your voice, facial expression and emotions, show a gentle, caring approach," Delahooke says.
  2. Teach the babysitter. Sit down with the person who will be caring for your child while you're away and show them how to co-regulate after you're gone. 
  3. Go on your date. "It may take a few minutes longer, but it helped build resilience in the child through a hybrid approach, and you still got to go on your date," she says.

You can extrapolate from these steps to a number of situations. 

For example, you can empathize with a child having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning by saying, "I know mornings are tough and you're tired," and in the same sentence express that not going to school is simply not an option. 

"You can have sturdiness, set boundaries and limits, and provide emotional safety at the same time," she says. 

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