Your parenting style can affect everything from how much your child weighs to how she feels about herself.
It’s essential to ensure your parenting style supports healthy growth and development because the way you interact with your child and how you discipline her will influence her for the rest of her life.
What Is a Parenting Style?
The parenting styles commonly used in psychology today are based on Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, in the 1960s. Maccoby and Martin also contributed by refining the model in the 1980s.
Developmental psychologists have long been interested in how parents affect child development.
However, finding actual cause-and-effect links between specific actions of parents and later behaviour of children is very difficult.
Some children raised in dramatically different environments can later grow up to have remarkably similar personalities.
Conversely, children who share a home and are raised in the same environment can grow up to have very different personalities.
Despite these challenges, researchers have posited that there are links between parenting styles and the effects these styles have on children.
And some suggest these effects carry over into adult behaviour.
The Four Parenting Styles
In the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind conducted a study on more than 100 preschool-age children.
Using naturalistic observation, parental interviews, and other research methods, she identified some critical dimensions of parenting.
These dimensions include disciplinary strategies, warmth and nurturing, communication styles, and expectations of maturity and control.
Based on these dimensions, Baumrind suggested that most parents display one of three different parenting styles.
Later research by Maccoby and Martin suggested adding a fourth parenting style. Each of these has different effects on children’s behaviour.
Do any of these statements sound like you?
- You believe kids should be seen and not heard.
- When it comes to rules, you believe it’s “my way or the highway.”
- You don’t consider your child’s feelings.
If any of those ring true, you might be an authoritarian parent. Authoritarian parents believe kids should follow the rules without exception.
Authoritarian parents are famous for saying, “Because I said so,” when a child questions the reasons behind a rule.
They are not interested in negotiating, and their focus is on obedience. They also don’t allow kids to get involved in problem-solving challenges or obstacles.
Instead, they make the rules and enforce the consequences with little regard for a child’s opinion.
Authoritarian parents may use punishments instead of discipline. So rather than teach a child how to make better choices, they’re invested in making kids feel sorry for their mistakes.
Children who grow up with strict authoritarian parents tend to follow the rules much of the time. But, their obedience comes at a price.
Children of authoritarian parents are at a higher risk of developing self-esteem problems because their opinions aren’t valued.
They may also become hostile or aggressive. Rather than think about how to do things better in the future, they often focus on the anger they feel toward their parents.
Since authoritarian parents are often strict, their children may grow to become good liars to avoid punishment.
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Pros and Cons of Authoritarian Parenting
Many people agree that firm parenting is good parenting. When your child knows their boundaries, they may be better able to focus on their achievements.
Authoritative parenting has its share of negatives. According to 2012 research out of the University of New Hampshire, the children of authoritarian parents:
- don’t see their parents as legitimate authority figures
- are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviours (such as smoking, skipping school, and underage drinking) than the children of those with other parenting styles
Other research shows that children of authoritarian parents are more depressed than other kids and are more likely to have inferior grades.
Keep in mind that most kids rebel at some point, which may happen in any parenting environment — including an authoritarian one. This can lead to a less-than-ideal parent/child relationship.
Examples of Authoritarian Parenting
If you’re an authoritarian parent, it’s your way or the highway.
- Your child asks why they can’t have friends over, see a particular movie, or have a cookie for dessert. Your reply? “Because I said so!” (Note: All parents respond like this on occasion, and that doesn’t make you a bad parent — or even necessarily mean you’re an authoritarian parent.)
- You may use intimidation and fear to get your child to do things. For example: “Clean your room, or I’ll throw out all your toys” or “If I get a bad report at the parent/teacher conference tonight, you’ll get a spanking tomorrow.” (Again, most parents find themselves making “deals” of this nature at one point or another — or even using the related technique of bribery.)
Do any of these statements sound like you?
- You put a lot of effort into creating and maintaining a positive relationship with your child.
- You explain the reasons behind your rules.
- You enforce rules and give consequences, but consider your child’s feelings.
If those statements sound familiar, you may be an authoritative parent. Authoritative parents have rules, and they use consequences, but they also take their children’s opinions into account.
They validate their children’s feelings while also making it clear that the adults are ultimately in charge.
Authoritative parents invest time and energy into preventing behaviour problems before they start.
They also use positive discipline strategies to reinforce good behaviour, like praise and reward systems.
Researchers have found kids who have authoritative parents are most likely to become responsible adults who feel comfortable expressing their opinions.
Children raised with authoritative discipline tend to be happy and prosperous. They’re also more likely to be good at making decisions and evaluating safety risks on their own.
Pros and Cons of Authoritative Parenting
As an authoritative parent, you create a loving and supportive environment for your children. As a result, your children:
- Rate higher on mental health scores.
- Are healthier.
According to research published in 2012, children raised by authoritative parents have higher self-esteem and quality of life than those raised by authoritarian or permissive parents.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notes that adolescents with authoritative parents (versus those who use the other parenting forms) are less likely to:
- have problems with substance abuse
- engage in unhealthy sexual behaviours
- be violent
While most experts agree that authoritative parenting produces the healthiest outcomes for kids, it requires a lot of patience and effort to make sure everyone is being heard.
In addition, rules sometimes have to be adjusted, which can be hard for kids — and parents!
Examples of Authoritative Parenting
- Your 16-year-old thinks a 10 p.m. curfew on weekends is too early, so you and your child agree upon (and you enforce) one you both feel is fair.
- Your student comes home with a D on a history test that you know they studied for. Instead of being angry, you praise your child for what they did right — studying hard — but encourage them to talk to the teacher to see what they can do better next time.
Do any of these statements sound like you?
- You set rules but rarely enforce them.
- You don’t give out consequences very often.
- You think your child will learn best with little interference from you.
If those statements sound familiar, you might be a permissive parent. Permissive parents are lenient. They often only step in when there’s a severe problem.
They’re pretty forgiving, and they adopt an attitude of “kids will be kids.” When they do use consequences, they may not make those consequences stick.
They might give privileges back if a child begs, or they may allow a child to get out of time-out early if he promises to be good.
Permissive parents usually take on more of a friend role than a parent role. They often encourage their children to talk with them about their problems, but they typically don’t put much effort into discouraging poor choices or bad behaviour.
Kids who grow up with permissive parents are more likely to struggle academically.
They may exhibit more behavioural problems as they don’t appreciate authority and rules. They often have low self-esteem and may report a lot of sadness.
They’re also at a higher risk for health problems, like obesity, because permissive parents struggle to limit junk food intake.
They are even more likely to have dental cavities because permissive parents often don’t enforce good habits, like ensuring a child brushes his teeth.
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Pros and Cons of Permissive Parenting
Permissive parents are generally loving and nurturing. Although this isn’t a parenting style most experts encourage, children raised without limits often praise their upbringing and credit it with developing them into independent, decision-making adults.
Kids can get into a heap of trouble — that’s what kids do. Whether they get into more trouble in a permissive parenting environment depends on the individual.
One 2016 study found that college kids raised by permissive parents had more perceived stress and were less mentally healthy than other kids.
Other research shows that permissive parenting may lead to obesity and cavities in children.
A 2019 study showed that children of permissive parents are more likely to be the victims of bullies. Interestingly enough, the bullies tend to be the children of authoritarian parents.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, permissive parenting can lead to teenage drinking.
Examples of Permissive Parenting
There are two central tenets to permissive parenting: You don’t have — or even want — control.
And your kids have complete freedom to make mistakes — and learn from those mistakes. Arguably, these lessons may “stick” better than if you simply dictate rules.
- Your sixth-grader wants to skip school just because? You think: Well, they decide to make. (And they’ll likely see the consequences in the form of more inferior grades or detention.)
- You find alcohol in your teen’s bedroom. You think: I wish my kids would make better choices, but I can’t make them do what they don’t want to do. (Again, permissive parents are kind and loving. Being a permissive parent doesn’t mean you give your child who has been drinking the keys to your car.)
Do any of these statements sound familiar?
- You don’t ask your child about school or homework.
- You rarely know where your child is or who she is with.
- You don’t spend much time with your child.
If those statements sound familiar, you might be an uninvolved parent. Uninvolved parents tend to have little knowledge of what their children are doing.
There tend to be few rules. Children may not receive much guidance, nurturing, and parental attention.
Uninvolved parents expect children to raise themselves. They don’t devote much time or energy to meeting children’s basic needs. Innocent parents may be neglectful, but it’s not always intentional.
A parent with mental health issues or substance abuse problems, for example, may not be able to care for a child’s physical or emotional needs consistently.
At other times, uninvolved parents lack knowledge about child development. And sometimes, they’re simply overwhelmed with other problems, like work, paying bills, and managing a household.
Children with uninvolved parents are likely to struggle with self-esteem issues.
They tend to perform poorly in school. They also exhibit frequent behaviour problems and rank low in happiness.
Pros and Cons of Uninvolved Parenting
There are no documented upsides to this style, though children are resilient and may become more self-sufficient out of necessity.
Overall, the kids of uninvolved/neglectful parents have some of the worst outcomes compared to kids of other parenting styles.
Research published in 2019 in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found children of neglectful parents often:
- have trouble controlling their emotions
- are likely to be depressed
- have academic challenges
- have difficulty with social relationships
- are antisocial
- are anxious
Examples of Uninvolved Parenting
- You have no idea if your child’s completed their homework, which doesn’t particularly matter to you.
- You leave your 4-year-old in the car while you shop at the mall.
Ever see “Mommie Dearest”? Well, think the opposite. Attachment parenting is a child-centric form of parenting in which you create a safe, secure environment for your child (forget the hysterical rants about wire hangers!).
- You have a lot of physical contact with your child — you hold, carry, and even co-sleep with your child.
- You respond to your child’s needs without hesitation. You soothe, comfort, and support to make your child feel safe and loved.
Pros and Cons of Attachment Parenting
While it may seem counterintuitive, a study published in 2010 in APAPsychNET reports that children exposed to attachment parenting are:
- less stressed
- able to control their emotions
Attachment parenting can become all-consuming. You may have to miss a lot of Wine Down Wednesdays with the girls, get used to having no privacy (or sex), and just generally have little time to or for yourself.
On a more serious note, co-sleeping with an infant can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and is not recommended.
Examples of Attachment Parenting
- Your baby cries, fusses, or seems fearful. You immediately go and comfort them.
- Your toddler has a nightmare and wants to sleep in your bed. You allow it.
Like chickens that aren’t confined to a cage, the children of free-range parents are given room to roam and take risks, but with parental guidance (notice we didn’t say full-on parental supervision).
It’s not “anything goes” with free-range parents (that’s closer to permissive parenting). Free-range parents loosen the reins, but they give their kids rules and consequences when they aren’t followed before they do. Free-range parents give their kids:
Pros and Cons of Free-Range Parenting
Giving kids control and responsibility helps them grow up to be:
- less depressed
- less anxious
- more able to make decisions
Your children might get hurt when they’re unsupervised, but the risk is small. Your kids are safer walking alone the half-mile to and from school each day than with you driving them.
In some states, free-range parents can be charged with neglect. It happened to Maryland parents when they allowed their children to walk home alone from a park, although the charges were later dropped.
Examples of Free-Range Parenting
- You let your preschooler wander around the playground while you watch from a distance.
- You let your child walk alone to a friend’s house a few streets away. But before they set out, you explain to your child what to do if they get lost, or a stranger approaches.
Know someone who orchestrates every aspect of their kid’s life, from what friends they have to what food they eat to what they do in their free time?
Then you know a concerned, conscientious parent. But society may also label them helicopter parent.
- try to control many situations (out of love, may we add)
- lack confidence in their child’s — well, any child’s — ability to handle situations as skillfully as an adult would (fair enough, perhaps)
- constantly offer guidance to their children
- jump in to solve their children’s problems
Keep in mind that these parents are acting out of love and concern. They want what’s best for their kids and don’t want their precious child’s mistakes to affect their future.
Pros and Cons of Helicopter Parenting
While many experts caution against helicopter parenting — a parenting style that some argue can make kids feel stifled and dependent — there’s, in fact, research that points to an upside.
Research cited in a 2016 study that looked at college students and their helicopter parents showed that kids who know their parents are monitoring their behaviour are less likely to:
- drink heavily
- take sexual risks
- hang out with people who drink heavily
There’s also a downside. According to psychologists at Indiana University, kids who have helicopter parents are more likely than others to:
- lack self-confidence and self-esteem
- report higher levels of anxiety and depression as adults
- have a fear of failure
- be poor problem solvers
Examples of Helicopter Parenting
- Your child is having a playdate with a classmate. You tell the kids what they should play and who gets to go first. Then you referee the game. This leads to a very peaceful, friendly game without fighting.
- Your teen fails a test. You go directly to the teacher and ask if they can retake it.
There are so many parenting styles. There are as many styles as there are parents.
Chances are you won’t fit into one category, and that’s okay. Your child is unique in ways that you know best, so your parenting will be unique, too.
Sometimes parents don’t fit into just one category, so don’t despair if there are times or areas where you tend to be permissive and other times when you’re more authoritative.
The studies are clear, however, that authoritative parenting is the best parenting style. But even if you tend to identify with other parenting styles more, there are steps you can take to become a more authoritative parent. =
Research suggests that your children will have the healthiest outcomes if you walk the thin line between nurturing and not too controlling.
But at the end of the day, we are all making calculated decisions — or flying by the seat of our pants, as we all do at times — out of love for our little ones.
With dedication and commitment to being the best parent you can be, you can maintain a positive relationship with your child while still healthily establishing your authority.
And over time, your child will reap the benefits of your authoritative style.
If you have parenting questions, talk to your child’s pediatrician. If they can’t help you, they can refer you to a mental health counsellor who can.
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