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4 Common Parenting Styles — And What They Reveal About You
Candace Alnaji image
Candace Alnaji, The Mom at Law

It seems there’s always a debate over parenting theories.

You’ve likely heard of some of these parenting philosophies: helicopter parenting, free-range parenting, attachment parenting. Maybe you’re a loud and proud “tiger mom,” or perhaps you fancy yourself more of an “elephant mom.”

While these styles receive the lion’s share of the attention when it comes to parenting discussions, there are actually four official styles of parenting recognized by psychologists today: authoritative, neglectful/uninvolved, permissive, and authoritarian style. Though not as flashy, these styles essentially form the basis for all other parenting methods.

The style to which you subscribe will reveal much about the type of parenting to which you adhere. Each style will also yield different outcomes for children and play different roles in child development. Read on for explanations of each type of parenting and its associated outcomes.

4 Parenting Styles

1. Authoritative Parenting

Experts consider the authoritative parenting style to be the best of the four Baumrind parenting styles both in terms of parenting effectiveness and outcomes for children, according to Parenting for Brain. This style of parenting is characterized by warmth, structure, open communication, and clear consequences, expectations, and boundaries for kids.

Authoritative parenting essentially embodies the Goldilocks principle when it comes to freedom and restriction in parenting—not too much, not too little; it strikes the perfect balance. This style of parenting is also sometimes known as “Democratic Parenting.”

Characteristics of Authoritative Parents

According to Parenting For Brain, authoritative parents:

• Are warm and nurturing;
• Are good listeners;
• Set clear expectations for kids;
• Permit and encourage kids’ autonomy and independence;
• Use reason instead of fear to motivate children;
• Utilize positive measures of discipline; and
• Earn rather than demand respect from children.

Experts believe that this warm, nurturing style is most beneficial to children and child behavior, fostering growth and encouraging them to express themselves. It allows parents to guide children while recognizing them as autonomous individuals worthy of respect.

Effects of Authoritative Parenting

This style also fosters greater communication between parents and children, permitting discussion and open dialogue as opposed to inflicting brute authoritarianism. Parents seek to understand life from their child’s point of view while also striving to communicate valuable lessons that aid child development.

This style shows that you are patient, supportive, and respectful and understand that children need to be nurtured and guided. It is an intentional style of parenting characterized by “high demandingness” and “high responsiveness.”

Diana Baumrind, the psychologist who defined these four parenting styles, found that children whose parents use the authoritative style experience less delinquency, higher self-esteem, lower rates of mental illness, and stronger academic performance. They also fare better socially.

In other words, if there were an ideal parenting style to subscribe to, authoritative parenting would be it.

2. Neglectful/Uninvolved Parenting

As the name suggests, the “neglectful,” or “uninvolved” parenting style is one of the most harmful. Chances are, if you are reading this article, you are not a neglectful or uninvolved parent.

According to Very Well Mind, uninvolved parents commonly come from backgrounds in which they were neglected by their own parents. Their childhood homes may have had been rife with child abuse, neglect, or other serious problems. Thus, these parents repeat the same mistakes their own parents made.

In other cases, parents who adopt the neglectful parenting style may not come from a similar background, but may be managing major life crises—being overworked, coping with depression, or struggling with substance abuse—and are thus unable to parent effectively.

Characteristics of Neglectful Parents

The neglectful/uninvolved parenting style is characterized by the following behavior:

• Poor supervision of children;
• Parents are emotionally distant;
• Parents are avoidant/absent;
• Parents show little interest in the lives of their children; and
• Parents show very little love or affection toward their children.

This style is clearly harmful and is characterized by low demandingness and low responsiveness. Expectations and standards are low. No parent who diligently researches parenting styles intentionally chooses to become a negligent parent. Even if your parenting is slightly hands off, that is different than being an uninvolved parent.

Effects of Neglectful Parenting

Children whose parents adopt this parenting style typically suffer. They struggle to form proper attachments, become socially and emotionally stunted, and frequently have difficulty in school.

These children also develop trust issues and experience trouble forming relationships, particularly with their peers.

Homes in which the uninvolved parenting style is present are characterized by low communication, low interest, and low parental involvement. These parents commonly have little to no knowledge about their children’s education or daily lives.

This is a damaging parenting style with damaging outcomes, and outside help is frequently needed to prevent further harm to children.

3. Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting, or indulgent parenting, is another potentially harmful style of parenting. This parenting style is characterized by low demandingness but high responsiveness.

While well intentioned, permissive parents fail to establish and enforce rules and are quick to overindulge the whims of their children. If permissive parents had a slogan, it would be “I’m not a regular mom; I’m a cool mom.”

According to Very Well Mind, these parents are likely to behave more like a friend than a parental figure. Their mantra may be “kids will be kids,” and make little to no attempt to enforce rules and discipline their children.

Characteristics of Permissive Parents

Permissive parents are loving, caring, and involved, but they fail to establish the structure and consequences children so desperately need to thrive.

As a result, children of permissive parents struggle in the following ways. They:

• Have difficulty following rules;
• Suffer from poor self-control;
• Have higher rates of impulsiveness;
• Possess egocentric tendencies; and
• Struggle to establish healthy relationships and navigate social interactions.

If you are a permissive parent, it is likely that your behavior is characterized by setting inconsistent rules, relying too heavily on bribery in exchange for good behavior, seeking your children’s approval and asking their opinions on major (adult) decisions, failing to establish a reliable schedule, and failing to enforce consequences for undesirable behavior.

It is clear that permissive parents love their children and prioritize their happiness, but their methods of showing this love and concern are problematic. By being too friendly and lax, these parents fail to provide the robust structure and discipline necessary for raising healthy, well-adjusted kids.

Effects of Permissive Parenting

Ironically, the associated outcomes of permissive parenting are likely the opposite of what these parents set out to accomplish. Kids whose parents rely on a permissive parenting style struggle socially and academically, exhibit poor judgment and decision-making skills, have difficulty expressing emotions, have higher rates of delinquency and substance abuse, and struggle to establish healthy habits and impulse control.

If you believe that you may be a permissive parent, don’t lose hope. You are likely already providing a warm, responsive, and nurturing environment for your children—you just need some help enforcing rules and guidance.

According to Very Well Mind, you can start establishing more effective parenting habits by creating a list of house rules, ensuring kids understand the consequences of breaking rules, enforcing these rules and consequences, and rewarding good behavior.

It is also important to remember that you are the parent. While it may be difficult at first, enforcing rules and facilitating healthy habits is not only an important part of your job but something your children will thank you for in the long run.

4. Authoritarian Parenting

The fourth and final style of parenting is the authoritarian parenting style — and yes, it is a separate category from Authoritative Parenting. Like the two that precede it, the authoritarian method is another potentially harmful style of parenting. It is characterized by high demandingness but low responsiveness.

This parenting style is reminiscent of the type championed by previous generations and can be summed up by phrases such as “children should be seen and not heard” or “because I said so.”

Characteristics of Authoritarian Parents

Since low communication is a hallmark of this parenting style, parents who adhere to this style rarely provide reasoning behind their rules. Discipline is swift and harsh. The ultimate goal is obedience and the means to achieve those ends are rarely healthy.

According to Very Well Mind, authoritarian parents exhibit the following characteristics:

• They are demanding without being responsive;
• They are not warm or nurturing;
• They punish without providing explanation;
• They are immediately reactive to negative behavior;
• They do not offer choices or options to kids;
• They are impatient disciplinarians;
• They do not trust their children;
• They are unwilling to negotiate; and
• They resort to shaming and other harmful discipline tactics.

As Parenting For Brain points out, while the “authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles have similar names, they have several important differences in parenting beliefs.”

While both parental styles rank high on the “demanding” side of the scale, authoritarian parents rank low on responsiveness, meaning they are “unresponsive to their children’s needs and are generally not nurturing.

Unlike authoritative parents, authoritarian parents do not rely on reasoning and open communication. Rather, they enforce harsh discipline tactics, including corporal punishment, in their quest to obtain blind obedience from their children.

Effects of Authoritarian Parenting

According to Parent For Brain, children who are raised by parents who subscribe to the authoritarian parenting style typically:

• Are less happy;
• Are less independent;
• Possess lower self-esteem;
• Fare worse socially and academically;
• Exhibit greater behavioral problems; and
• Have great incidences of mental health problems.

These children may also exhibit more aggression, appear fearful or shy in social interactions, suffer from depression or anxiety, struggle with self-control and decision making, develop unhealthy associations between obedience and love, and struggle with autonomy.

Without ever being given the opportunity to explore their independence or rationalize the connection between actions and consequences, children of authoritarian parents may have trouble navigating the world on their own.

This is not an advisable way to parent. Parents who adhere to this parenting style may do so because it reflects the manner in which they were raised. Similarly, they may be following a parenting “instinct” without exploring the effects of it.

Adjusting Your Parenting

As is the case with many things in life, correcting such parenting errors is possible only through education and awareness. Without an awareness of a problem, the desire to correct it, and guidance to help navigate toward better choices, parents risk getting stuck relying on unhealthy habits.

Experts advise authoritarian parents to seek ways to incorporate authoritative methods of parenting into their style as this will open lines of communication between parents and children, and provide healthier means of discipline—and that is better for everyone.

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Candace is a practicing attorney, working parents advocate, freelance writer, and proud mom. Her legal practice focuses on workers’ rights. She can be found writing about law, motherhood, and more on her blog as The Mom at Law.

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