What’s your parenting style? It’s a common question, especially in online parenting quizzes or magazines. Parenting styles — not to be confused with parenting practices — are part of your child’s environment. And it’s a part that plays a big role in shaping who she becomes.
Learning about different parenting styles isn’t just a new trend with cute labels. Researchers and developmental psychologists have found parenting styles affect a child’s home environment, but that’s just the start. They also influence her personality, physical health, emotional and mental health, and success throughout childhood.
Not sure which style of parenting you follow? Read on to learn about the four parenting styles and how they affect a child’s life.
What Are Parenting Styles?
Parenting styles are psychological theories or ideologies behind the strategies parents employ while raising children. Parenting styles are not the strategies themselves. A parenting style is a combination of several elements including:
- A parent’s actions towards the child
- A parent’s attitude towards the child, e.g., warmth or affection
- How much a parent demands of a child
- How much a parent responds to a child
- Methods for discipline, e.g., time-ins versus time-outs
- Communication style, e.g., yelling or talking
- Maturity of the parent
- Self-control levels of the parent
A parenting style is more than just a label — it drives the child’s environment. Each parenting style has a unique impact on the child’s health, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, social development, and mental well-being.
How It All Started: Origins of Parenting Styles
In the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind studied family socialization, particularly the various methods to raise children and how it affects children’s behavior. Baumrind observed preschoolers and discovered three types of parents:
To expand on Baumrind’s findings, researchers later added a fourth parenting style: uninvolved.
Let’s first take a peek at what authoritative means. Although this word is sometimes used to mean dictatorial (or even bossy!), authoritative can also mean complete or based on accurate information. In authoritative parenting, a parent’s authority relies on concrete information — never the “because I said so” argument.
An authoritative parent establishes firm yet clear rules and expects a child to follow these rules but not without question. An authoritative parent explains why the rules are in place and provides the support and guidance needed to follow the household rules.
If a child fails to follow a rule — which can happen more than we like! — an authoritative parent doesn’t jump to quick punishments. Instead, an authoritative parent teaches the child the right behaviors and supports him in making new, better decisions. A child experience consequences rather than punishments. In this way, children learn how and why the rules are important.
To a child in an authoritative home, rules have meanings. They aren’t just arbitrary ultimatums. Rules help foster emotional self-control and independence.
Attachment parenting is a popular parenting philosophy, and many of the tools in attachment parent (such as babywearing) mesh well with an authoritative parenting style due to the emphasis placed on high responsiveness.
An authoritative parent:
- Is both demanding and responsive
- Responds positively to children
- Is warm
- Is assertive but not pushy
- Offers feedback and constructive criticism
- Offers forgiveness for mistakes
- Prefers positive discipline over punishment
- Uses reward systems as well as praise
If the above statements reflect your parenting style, you may be an authoritative parent.
How Authoritative Parenting Impacts Children
Although the authoritative style focuses on rules, authoritative parenting does have a positive effect on child development. Children who grow up in authoritative households are generally cooperative (in home and school) and responsible. They also demonstrate strong emotional regulation and good decision-making skills.
This is because authoritative parents provide clear expectations and lead with confidence yet still attend to the emotional needs of the child.
Authoritative parenting also contributes to the overall physical well-being of a child. A 2015 study published in the Pediatric Dentistry journal found children of authoritative parents had the fewest dental cavities when compared to children parented under other styles. This could be attributed to the authoritative tendency to create rules while explaining their importance — like how brushing teeth before bed prevents cavities.
Not to be confused with authoritative parenting, the authoritarian parenting style is characterized by strict rules with harsh demands for compliance. Unlike authoritative parenting, authoritarians prioritize obedience above all else. Parents who use authoritarian parenting expect compliance without question. You might hear “because I said so” a lot in an authoritarian household.
An authoritarian parent:
- Expects compliance without attention to a child’s emotional needs
- Is demanding but not responsive
- Is cold
- Focuses on punishment over positive instruction
- Has high expectations with little warmth
If a child in an authoritarian house fails to follow a rule, punishment is the response. Punishments, unlike positive discipline, lead to a child feeling bad without the proper tools to learn from past mistakes.
How Authoritarian Parenting Affects Children
Children who live in authoritative and authoritarian households both learn to follow the rules. The difference is that children in the authoritarian households tend to lack the emotional stability of children reared through authoritative practices.
Researchers find children living under extreme parental control are more likely to develop low self-esteem as well as behavior problems. Low self-esteem can contribute to aggression and general feelings of anger and discontent.
In the most extreme cases, children of authoritarian parents develop good lying skills to avoid strict punishments. Researchers from a 2012 University of New Hampshire study also found children raised in authoritarian houses are more likely to become delinquents with generally mistrusting personalities.
While authoritative parenting focuses on high demand and high responsiveness, permissive parenting is characterized by high responsiveness with low demands. Although permissive parents are loving, they don’t set many rules, and if any rules are broken, there are few (if any) consequences.
Permissive parenting communication often seems more friend-to-friend rather than parent-to-child. For example, a permissive parent may ask about grades or schoolwork but offer no consequences for poor grades. Poor behavior is justified by a “kids will be kids” attitude.
A permissive parent:
- Creates household rules but rarely enforces them
- Doesn’t focus on consequences or punishments
- Shies away from heavy interaction
- Is warm, loving, and responsive but not demanding
- Acts like a friend rather than a parent
If the above statements resonate, you may have permissive tendencies.
How Permissive Parenting Affects Children
Because of a lenient parenting style, children who grow up in permissive households tend to struggle with authority — simply because indulgent parents don’t model the value of rules or the importance of self-control.
Children of permissive parents are likely to struggle with grades, according to researchers. Emotionally, these children may be at a higher risk for feelings of sadness.
Permissive parenting also affects the health of a child. One study explored the link between permissive parenting and obesity. Children with permissive parents were more likely to consume low-nutrient-dense foods as well as struggle with obesity. There is also a direct correlation between lack of rules about oral health — such as brushing teeth before bed — and increased risk of dental decay.
In the most extreme cases of permissive parenting, a child may develop egocentric tendencies and impulsive behaviors, according to a study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
The fourth style of parenting, later added to address parents who didn't fall into any of the initial three styles, is uninvolved.. Uninvolved parents, sometimes referred to as neglectful parents, don’t provide for children’s emotional needs. In extreme cases, an uninvolved parent may even fail to provide the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and education.
An uninvolved parent:
- Is neither demanding nor responsive
- Declines communication, e.g., failing to ask questions about school or friendships
- Does not make rules
- Does not provide instruction or punishment
- Is indifferent, neither warm nor cold
How Uninvolved Parenting Affects Children
Without any rules, support, or communication, children of uninvolved parents lack proper direction in life. This increases a child’s risk of illicit behavior, missed school days, and poor behavior. These children struggle to regulate their emotions and can be at a high risk for suicidal thoughts or tendencies.
Impact of Different Parenting Styles
You’ve probably heard the phrase that children are like little sponges who soak up the world around them. Just like they learn to brush their hair by watching you brush your hair, they’re learning to simply be by watching you, too. As children are exposed to certain parenting styles, their personalities develop in response.
For example, if you adopt an authoritative parenting style, your children are more likely to demonstrate kindness towards others, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. With kindness comes other positive personality traits like empathy and conscientiousness.
Dr. Thomas G. Power, a researcher studying the link between childhood obesity and parenting styles, determined that children fell under one of the following four categories:
- Assertive and self-controlled (authoritative)
- Discontented, distrustful, or even withdrawn (authoritarian)
- Little to no self-control (permissive)
- Desire to retreat from warmth and love (uninvolved)
If you notice any signs of discontentment or lack of self-control in your own children, it’s not too late to adapt your parenting style and use healthier parenting strategies.
The first step is to mindfully reflect on your parenting styles, your responsiveness, what you demand of your child, and how you interact with your child. Replacing any punitive parenting strategies with positive discipline and loving instruction can make your home more peaceful and have a lifelong effect on your child.
Which Parenting Style Is Most Effective?
When it comes to parenting styles, the term effective can be subjective, but this is a question many parents want answered. Learning which style is more effective is a good way to perform a quick analysis of your own style — to make sure you’re on track.
The tricky part is both authoritative and authoritarian styles have success with kids following rules. The difference is the effect each style has on a child.
A truly effective parenting style is one that helps a parent raise a well-adjusted, confident, happy child who has high emotional intelligence. To do so, an effective parenting style must:
- Prioritize clear expectations of the child
- Prioritize high demands of the parent coupled with a high responsiveness rate
- Pave the way for open and loving communication
- Place priority on positive discipline rather than punishment
Which Parenting Style Do You Follow?
Most parents find they don’t fit solidly into just one category. For instance, you may employ authoritative practices for the most part but struggle with leniency (a sign of permissive parenting) when children start to beg.
To find out which parenting style you follow, it’s important to evaluate your demandingness and your responsiveness.
Comparing Your Demands With Your Responsiveness
If you find yourself with high demands but are warm and responsive, you may follow an authoritative parenting style. If you find yourself with high demands but are colder and less responsive, you may employ authoritarian parenting strategies.
On the other hand, if you have low demands but are still warm, nurturing, and responsive, you may be a permissive parent. If a parent has low demands but is indifferent and completely unresponsive, this parent may be uninvolved.
Where to Go From Here
Because the different types of parenting styles have a direct effect on a child’s emotional and physical well-being, it’s important to evaluate your own parenting style. For example, do you struggle to stick with the preestablished consequences when your child begs? It’s not too late to give your parenting style a makeover if needed.
Armed with knowledge and motivation, you can learn to incorporate a more positive parenting style by emphasizing your authority while still tending to your children’s needs. With dedication, you’ll find that you and your children have stronger bonds while their behavior improves.