Bringing home our first born from the hospital was surreal. With a brother 15 years younger than me, I had a good deal of experience changing diapers, making bottles, and rocking babies to sleep. But this was different. This one was mine!
He has my DNA and looks like me. The weight of responsibility I felt was enormous. I now had a little person that relied on me to survive.
It wasn’t until our little guy became a toddler, and guiding his behavior was a normal, daily thing, that the idea of my parenting style crossed my mind.
What kind of parent am I going to be? What’s my parenting style?
These days we’ve got a third grader, a first grader, and a three-year-old collectively running the show in our house. My wife and I are in full blow parenting mode all the time whether we want to be or not.
You know what that’s like, right?
- Breaking up fights
- Putting content filters on Netflix, Hulu, cell phones, iPads, and anything else connected to the internet
- Stopping them from grabbing everything off the counter and stove while you’re trying to make dinner
- Reminding them about their homework that’s due tomorrow
- Helping them finish the homework (aka doing the homework…)
- Explaining the meaning of words they heard at school or in the Zoom classroom that you didn’t plan on explaining for a couple more years
- Digging their bike out of the shed when the sun shines
- Reminding them to wear a helmet
- Icing their head when they fall off their bike not wearing a helmet
Does a parenting style even matter? Doesn’t parenting just sort of “happen” as the kids get older? Should you purposely choose a parenting style? How are your kids going to turn out after living their lives under your parenting style?
Let’s start at the beginning.
What is a Parenting Style?
Wikipedia tells us “a parenting style is a psychological construct representing standard strategies that parents use in their child rearing.”
Basically it’s how parents respond to and/or make demands of their children.
What “strategies” do you use when directing or correcting your child’s behavior?
- Do you spank or not?
- Do you yell to get their attention if they don’t listen the first time, or the second, or third?
- Do you set a curfew and have clear consequences set for missing it?
- When they get hurt on their bike not wearing their helmet, do you comfort or scold them first?
These sorts of patterns and practices make up your parenting style.
Obviously a combination of factors will evolve over time. Children develop their own personalities, you personally grow and learn more with parenting experience, and your practice and style will most likely adjust. The age of your children also determines how you interact with them. Obviously, how you deal with a first grade boy is different from a 15-year-old girl.
Let’s dig into some of the different kinds of parenting styles.
Baumrind Parenting Styles
Diana Baumrind: Queen Bee of Parenting Styles Research
Diana Baumrind was a researcher who, amongst many other things, focused on the classification of parenting styles. During the early 1960s she conducted a study on more than 100 preschool-age children and lived to tell the tale.
Observing the children in natural environments, doing parental interviews, and other research methods, she identified several factors.
Her studies revealed what she considered to be the four basic elements that could help shape success in raising children (which is what we parents are after). These elements are: responsiveness vs. unresponsiveness and demanding vs. undemanding.
Parental responsiveness is the degree to which you respond to your child’s needs in a supportive and accepting manner. When they scrape their knee, do you check to see if they are ok? If they come to you with homework, do you offer help, or send them on their merry little way to figure it out on their own?
Demandingness is the rules you put in place in an effort to guide behavior. It is also the expectations you have for your child to comply with those rules, and the level of consequences levied when rules get broken.
Are they required to finish their meal before getting up from the table? Do you have a curfew set? What happens when your child ventures out beyond the boundaries you’ve established? Does their room need to stay clean?
Putting all her observations together, Baumrind created the three main parenting styles that are still recognized five decades later: authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting, and uninvolved parenting.
There is a fourth parenting style, but that came later from two more researchers who dug deeper into what Baumrind started.
Maccoby and Martin: Growing the Hive of Knowledge
In the 1980s, Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin expanded upon Baumrind’s three original parenting styles by placing parenting styles into two distinct categories: demanding and undemanding. This resulted in expanding Baumrind’s Permissive Parenting into two styles instead of one: Permissive and Uninvolved (or Neglectful).
Parenting Styles Chart
Breaking Down the 4 Parenting Styles
Let’s break down the four parenting styles as categorized by Baumrind, Maccoby, and Martin’s work using responsiveness vs. unresponsiveness and demanding vs. undemanding.
Authoritarian Parenting — “Because I Said So”
- Demanding but not responsive
- Children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment.
- Parents don’t explain the reasoning behind the rules they create. If the child asks for an explanation the most common response is, “Because I said so.”
- Parents don’t typically involve the children in problem solving, but lay down the law without caring about the child’s opinion.
- Even though high demands are placed on children, parents are not the most responsive to their kids. They expect near-perfect behavior and for their children to not make mistakes, yet they provide very little direction.
- According to Baumrind, these parents “are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation.”
Authoritarian parenting is essentially “ruling with an iron fist.” Parents say how things will be and kids are expected to comply without objection.
Authoritative Parenting — “You Know the Rules”
- Demanding and responsive
- Child-centered approach to parenting
- Available when needed, but not overbearing
- Takes time to understand how a child is feeling, then will help them process, regulate, and deal with their feelings
- Rules and guidelines are established, and children are expected to follow them. However, this parenting style treats the child with honor and equity.
- When kids ask questions these parents are willing to listen and much more responsive
- A lot is expected of the children, but parents provide feedback, suitable support, and affection.
- When children fail to meet the expectations set by parents they are met with more discipline and forgiveness rather than accusation and punishment
Authoritative parenting is training kids for adulthood while understanding they are still children who are learning. You set clear expectations of behavior and are willing to engage when they need help or ask why. When the rules get broken there’s a pretty good chance your kids already know the consequence headed their way because you established that beforehand.
Permissive Parenting — “I’m a Cool Mom!”
- Responsive but not demanding
- These parents are sometimes referred to as “indulgent parents” as they place few demands on their children. They rarely discipline because they don’t carry high expectations of maturity or self-control.
- Baumrind states they “are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation.”
- They nurture and communicate well with their children. More often than not, these parents see their role as “friend” as opposed to a disciplinary or the one in charge.
Permissive parenting lets “kids be kids’’ without realizing these young people will someday move out and have to be adults on their own. Or maybe they’ll just be adults that never leave and might live in your basement forever. These parents don’t concentrate on preparing their kids for the “real world.” However, these parents love their children and are there for them when they need anything.
Uninvolved Parenting — “Whatever…”
- Not demanding and not responsive
- Uninvolved parents have few demands of their kids, are low in responsiveness, and don’t communicate much.
- They will fulfill the child’s basic needs, but are generally detached from their child’s life.
- Hopefully they make sure that their kids are fed and have a roof over their heads, but they don’t offer guidance, structure, rules, or support. In the most extreme cases, these parents might disregard or neglect the needs of their children.
Uninvolved parenting is where parents are checked out from the responsibility of raising a future member of society. Kids most likely (hopefully) have food, water, and shelter. But they are on their own beyond that. Essentially they’re raising themselves.These homes are devoid of much relationship, and children can be seen as just another thing to do or expense in the home.
Oh man… Am I Screwing My Kid up?
Each parenting style has its own effect on kids. When you parent in a certain way on a regular basis it does actually influence your child. Not always in the short term, but definitely in the long term. They will develop and respond to whatever the “normal” is in your home.
What results can typically be expected from each of the 4 parenting styles?
- Will generally lead to obedient and proficient kids
- Children tend to rank lower in happiness, social competence, and self-esteem as this kind of parenting trains them to be conformists
- With the strictness of the parents, kids can become good liars as they try to avoid being punished
- Not being able to express themselves openly to their parents, children can become resentful and/or angry
- Adolescents of this parenting style are often rebellious as they aren’t given the opportunity to grow in their own identity, but are required to be who/what their parents want
- Tends to result in children who are happy, capable, and successful
- These kids learn autonomy and that they are responsible for themselves
- Independent, self-reliant, and able to take constructive criticism
- Children become emotionally self aware and develop the ability to regulate their feelings
- Are able to assess risk, and more likely to take risks understanding the natural consequences that could occur
- Often results in children who rank low in happiness and self-regulation.
- Because their parents don’t exercise much authority in the home, these children are more likely to experience problems with authority and tend to perform poorly in school
- Typically are more irresponsible as the parents do not tend to hold children accountable for their actions and choices
- Because of a lack of impulse control and self-regulation, adolescents can engage in drinking and drug use more than the children of other parenting styles
- Kids tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem, and are less competent than their peers. This lends itself to poor school performance and frequent behavior problems
- Without regular family support, they often deal with more stress and anxiety
- A lack of responsiveness and care from parents often means a struggle with other relationship attachments later in life
5 (More!) Parenting Styles (Modern Parenting Styles)
While Baumrind, Maccoby, and Martin gave us the basic four parenting styles, several other styles have evolved out of their work. Next we’ll briefly cover five parenting styles that are becoming a part of the modern era in child rearing.
This style of parenting finds its roots in positive psychology. Positive psychology is essentially the study of what makes people happy and fulfilled, and how one can achieve it.
These parents are all about empowering their children. They are sensitive to their individual needs and will address challenges with compassion and respect.
The goal is to be a “guide” in the child’s life leading to high self-esteem. Focus on what they are interested in and unconditionally support it.
Attachment Parenting (aka Intuitive or Natural Parenting)
Attachment parenting puts its emphasis on connection. The idea is that if you want to raise an adult that has good self-esteem, independence, and empathy, they need to be good at relationships and know how to have healthy attachments with others.
The belief is that the best way to accomplish this is through meeting their physical and emotional needs quickly. Show them unconditional love and create constant emotional security.
This kind of parenting starts at birth with breastfeeding, regular skin-to-skin contact, “wearing” the baby, and co-sleeping.
Unconditional Parenting (aka Conscious Parenting)
The term unconditional parenting was created by author Alfie Kohn and comes from his aptly named book, Unconditional Parenting.
An excerpt from the book’s description puts it well:
Most parenting guides begin with the question “How can we get kids to do what they’re told?” and then proceed to offer various techniques for controlling them… Alfie Kohn begins instead by asking, “What do kids need — and how can we meet those needs?” What follows from that question are ideas for working with children rather than doing things to them.
This parenting approach believes in rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. They want their kids to know they are loved for who they are as opposed to being loved for what they do. Teach and encourage the things you want your children to do, but if they mess up, you show them full acceptance and point them toward the good behavior.
Spiritual Parenting (aka Holistic Parenting)
Spiritual parenting isn’t about teaching your kids a religion. It’s actually quite the opposite. The focus is the journey your child is on and being present for them along the way.
These parents create environments and opportunities for a child’s uniqueness to be discovered and nurtured. Life is simple and exposure to the consumer-driven world of advertising and marketing is limited.
Slow Parenting (aka Nurturant Parenting)
Slow parenting likes the gift of boredom, which flies in the face of our typical fast-paced world. These parents limit organized activities and emphasize family time. Kids are allowed to go at their own speed. Toys are simple, television is limited or eliminated altogether, and they are encouraged to take certain risks in an effort to learn their abilities and limits.
The overall goal of slow parenting is to allow space for kids to grow into the people they are supposed to be by discovering their own interests, and not be influenced by the world we live in.
3 Parenting Styles You Hear Most About in the News and on Social Media
This is the one that has probably gotten the most press over the years. Helicopter parenting is being heavily involved and concerned with your child’s experiences and problems. These parents “hover” (like a helicopter) over their child so they can see and be a part of every aspect of their kids’ life.
The parent assumes responsibility for the child’s experiences, successes, and failures as opposed to letting these things fall on their kid’s shoulders. Typically safety is of the utmost concern.
Some of the stereotypical stories that accompany this kind of parenting are college students getting wake-up calls from their mom to make sure they get to class on time, parents staying up late to finish a school project for their child, or the parent who still assists their child on the playground equipment — even though their child is going into 2nd grade.
Lawnmower Parenting (aka Snowplow or Bulldozer Parenting)
Much like the helicopter parent, lawnmower parenting includes knowing everything going on in a child’s life. But these parents take it a step further and “mow” down every problem, challenge, struggle, and/or uncomfortable thing their child could possibly face.
Kids aren’t given an opportunity to figure things out on their own or learn from any failure. All obstacles are removed by the parent before their child has to face them.
A perfect example of this is the college admissions scandal in 2019 that included several celebrities and other wealthy families. Rather than their child applying to college and potentially being rejected, they simply (allegedly) bribed people in various positions at colleges to get their child in regardless of merit.
In broad terms, helicopter parenting tends to be more prevalent when kids are in elementary school and younger. As they get older, a parent can start to take helicoptering to another level and it becomes lawnmowing.
Free-range parenting is the anti-helicopter parenting style. This is characterized by encouraging kids to function independently without much parent involvement. Children get to learn from life’s natural consequences as they have the freedom to experience life without their parents constantly watching them.
This was made most famous in 2008 when Lenore Skenanzy, a New York columnist, wrote an article titled, Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone. In it she tells the story of her son craving independence and her giving him a shot at it by letting him ride the New York subway alone. National media picked it up, with helicopter and lawnmower parents having a field day in the comments.
Simply put, free-range parenting is similar to uninvolved parenting. But it’s done on purpose and with the intention of allowing the child to learn independence on their own.
What is Your Parenting Style?
While most of us can read the descriptions of each parenting style and see where we fit and where we don’t, it may still be difficult to determine where you land. The four basic parenting styles represent rather distinct boxes, and most parents will operate with a combination of more than one.
This quiz from Psych Central is a great resource. It doesn’t label your parenting style with the categories discussed in this article, but gives you a good idea as to where you fit in regards to authoritarianism, flexibility, and permissiveness.
In about two minutes you’ll know where you land on a scale in each of these areas, then you can decide if/how you want to adjust.
You’re A Good Parent (I’ll Prove it to You)
You just read an article on parenting styles.
While I’m sure you could have been doing dishes, starting a load of laundry, getting the kids’ backpacks ready for tomorrow, or attempting to go to bed at a decent time, you’re here instead. You read this article about parenting styles for one reason:
Because you care about your kids.
My wife and I often talk about how our parents handled different situations with us. It’s clear there were times we weren’t “parented” well. But both of us know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were loved well. The care our parents had for us was never in question.
The above styles weren’t created by parents who knew what they were doing. They were discovered by researchers observing how all of us are trying to raise our kids. All the stuff parents try was simply categorized into “styles.”
Regardless of your parenting style, your kids need to be loved and cared for by you. You made an effort to learn something new and be a better parent by taking time to read this.
Know that you are already a good parent, because by trying to be better, you proved how much you love your kids. And that’s the best parenting style there is.