Parenting styles differ from family to family, and may even vary from day to day within one family. All parents make decisions for their children that may be more strict or more indulgent on occasion. For the most part, however, the way that one parents falls into one of three general parenting methods. These are authoritative, authoritarian and permissive parenting styles.
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Authoritative parents are firm, loving and kind. They set boundaries and expect their children to abide by them. Neither overly strict nor overly indulgent, authoritative parents strike a good balance between expectations that are too high and expectations that are too low. These parents allow their children to make choices that are age-appropriate, encouraging them to take on more responsibility as they grow. They respond well to the needs of their child, but do not give in to every desire. They give their child reasons for certain rules and guidelines, and allow natural consequences to take place whenever feasible and when no real harm will come to the child due to those consequences. According to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, children of authoritative parents often display social competence, independence and a high sense of responsibility as they grow into young adults.
Authoritarian parents are strict, unbending and inflexible. They may attempt to control every aspect of their child's life, and do not allow the child to make choices. Authoritarian parents expect obedience without questioning. They may use harsh discipline methods with their children, and may be insensitive to their children's emotional needs. They often do not explain the reasons behind the rules that they set, and impose their own consequences whenever a rule is broken. Adult children of authoritarian parents may be unable to act without specific direction, and may have trouble expressing themselves.
Permissive parents are indulgent, not wanting to impose their will on their child's developing personality. They often set no rules and have no consequences. They might cause their child to avoid even natural or logical consequences in order to save him from perceived harm, unhappiness or hurt feelings. Permissive parents are usually kind and loving, but may become frustrated when a child's behavior is defiant or unacceptable. Despite this frustration, permissive parents often do not step in to cause a change in the child's actions as long as he will not be physically harmed. Permissive parenting may cause teen and young adult children to remain egocentric or lack self-control, according to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
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Your parenting style can affect everything from how much your child weighs to how she feels about herself. It's important to ensure your parenting style is supporting 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.
Researchers have identified four types of parenting styles. Each style takes a different approach to raising children.
1. Authoritarian Parenting
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 take your child's feelings into consideration.
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 rules much of the time. But, their obedience comes at a price.
Children of authoritarian parents are at a higher risk of development 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 in an effort to avoid punishment.
2. Authoritative Parenting
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 take your child's feelings into consideration.
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 behavior problems before they start. They also use positive discipline strategies to reinforce good behavior, like praise and reward systems.
Children raised with authoritative discipline tend to be happy and successful. They're also more likely to be good at making decisions and evaluating safety risks on their own.
Researchers have found kids who have authoritative parents are most likely to become responsible adults who feel comfortable expressing their opinions.
3. Permissive Parenting
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 serious problem.
They're quite 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 usually don't put much effort into discouraging poor choices or bad behavior.
Kids who grow up with permissive parents are more likely to struggle academically. They may exhibit more behavioral 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.
4. Uninvolved Parenting
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 tends 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 into meeting children's basic needs.
Uninvolved 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 on a consistent basis.
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 behavior problems and rank low in happiness.
A Word From Verywell
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.
With dedication and commitment to being the best parent you can be, you can maintain a positive relationship with your child while still establishing your authority in a healthy manner. And over time, your child will reap the benefits of your authoritative style.
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Diaconu-Gherasim LR, Măirean C. Perception of parenting styles and academic achievement: The mediating role of goal orientations. Learning and Individual Differences. 2016;49:378-385.
Hesari NKZ, Hejazi E. The Mediating Role of Self Esteem in the Relationship Between the Authoritative Parenting Style and Aggression. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2011;30:1724-1730.
Matejevic M, Todorovic J, Jovanovic AD. Patterns of Family Functioning and Dimensions of Parenting Style. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2014;141:431-437.