Inside: The 4 types of parenting styles in developmental psychology and why it matters for your own parenting. Why gentle parenting or positive parenting is not the same as permissive parenting. A balanced approach is best.
As much as we’d like it to be true, unfortunately, kids aren’t born with manuals attached to their wrists. It is up to us as parents to figure out how to raise well-rounded and successful children.
This article is a great place to start if you have ever asked yourself what type of parent you would like to be. The key to figuring out your own parenting style is understanding the four types of parenting styles in developmental psychology.
4 Types of Parenting Styles in Developmental Psychology: A Balance of Support and Control
The 4 types of parenting styles in developmental psychology are based on the work of the late psychologist Diana Baumrind in the early 1960s. Dr. Baumrind and Standford researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin found that each parenting style affects a child’s behavior differently and varies on two dimensions or categories: responsiveness and demandingness.
- Responsiveness (support) is the extent to which parents are warm and sensitive to their child’s needs.
- Demandingness (control) is the extent of control parents use to influence their child’s behavior, the nature of discipline.
More recently, psychologists have identified a third dimension, structure, the extent to which parents provide their children with a predictable, organized, and consistent environment.
Ultimately, a healthy balance of responsiveness, demandingness, and structure will result in an enriching relationship between you and your child. Here are the 4 parenting styles and their key characteristics and how they matter for child development.
Authoritative Parenting Style: High Control, High Support
A parent with an authoritative parenting style problem-solves alongside their child. Instead of leaving their child to figure it out independently, they get down on their level and help them brainstorm ideas to fix the issue. They don’t give them the answers but provide them with the tools to work it out while being present. These kids are often self-disciplined and can think for themselves when conflict arises.
An authoritative parent also sets clear rules and expectations for their child. They have clear limits and rules and communicate those with their child in a way that encourages cooperation by giving choices, suggestions, and encouragement.
One of the most essential characteristics of the authoritative style is an open line of communication and natural consequences. Although there are clear-cut rules and expectations, the child and parent regularly converse about their wants and needs to understand one another and work together in all areas. Those natural consequences come into play when the parent lets their child do something they know might end poorly just so the child learns what may happen next time.
An authoritative parent uses discipline to teach their child and to problem solve, not as a form of punishment. This promotes autonomy within the child.
This parenting style is high when it comes to both control and support. Authoritative parents also tend to provide a high amount of structure and consistency for their children. The parents respond to their child’s social and emotional needs and provide clear rules and expectations.
Why Authoritative Parenting Matters…
One study found that parents using authoritative parenting practices had children who scored the highest on measures of social and emotional development (e.g., play, self-esteem, tantrums, interactions with people, handling transitions, and behavior). Another study found children of authoritative parents had higher academic success and better adjustment in college.
Authoritarian Parenting Style: High Control, Low Support
The authoritarian parenting style is highly parent-driven instead of child-focused. This means that the parent sets strict rules and punishments when those rules aren’t followed. The parent expects the child to listen and doesn’t want a response from the child. They are authority figures, and the child’s behavior should reflect that.
The lines of communication are often one way with the authoritarian parenting style. The child’s social and emotional needs are not prioritized and what matters most is that the child complies with the household’s rules and demands. There is minimal flexibility regarding the child’s needs and lower parental support, warmth, and encouragement.
The authoritarian parenting style is high in control, low in support, and very high in structure. Parents with this style expect obedience from their children and neglect their children’s emotional and social needs.
Why Authoritarian Parenting Matters…
Long-term and cross-cultural studies show that harsh discipline predicts later behavior problems and low self-esteem. In Japan, authoritarian parenting styles predicted worse mental health (e.g. symptomatic problems, risk to self and others, life functioning, and psychological well-being) for children in their later adult lives.
Uninvolved Parenting Style: Low Control, Low Support
Parents who use this parenting style are sometimes called neglectful parents because they are uninvolved or absent regarding their children. They provide little guidance or nurturing when a child is hurting emotionally or looking for help when facing a problem.
The uninvolved parent is indifferent to their child’s social-emotional and behavioral needs. This means that they often don’t have rules implemented in the household, and those behaviors show especially when kids enter the classroom.
This parenting style is low when it comes to control and support. They don’t demand much from their children and don’t respond when they need emotional support. They are also very low in structure.
Why Uninvolved Parenting Matters…
Children of uninvolved parents suffer the worst effects — cognitive declines, antisocial behavior, problems with attachment, and even brain differences. The good news is that Dr. Emmy Werner, who studied resilience in neglected children, found that all it takes to bolster a neglected child is one caring adult in that child’s life — that one teacher, grandparent, or mentor — can set that child on a path of resilience and hope.
Permissive Parenting Style: Low Control, High Support
The permissive style of parenting is often child-driven. The child runs the house and has no rules or expectations to follow. To appease their child and avoid conflict, the parent may overindulge them with toys, sweets, television, etc. They prefer positive outcomes over tantrums and behavioral control.
These parents do, however, communicate regularly with their children, but it’s a one-way street, and the child gets their way. These parents often take on a friendship role and offer limited guidance or direction when conflicts arise.
The parent-child relationships result in low demandingness and high responsiveness. Children of permissive parents often get what they want from their indulgent parents.
Yes, you can have screen time. When that time is up — it’s up. The boundary is clear. It’s okay if your child has feelings about the boundary. You can empathize with their feelings, but the limit stays consistent.
Why Permissive Parenting Matters…
One study has found a relationship between having a parent who is uninvolved or permissive and a greater likelihood of delinquent behavior in adolescents and depression. Another study found permissive parenting style was associated with a greater likelihood of children having anxiety and internet addiction.
Positive Parenting: A Sensitive and Balanced Approach
A popular parenting style in recent years is a sensitive take on parenting. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, sensitive parenting is a style often described as heightened parental sensitivity and responsiveness to child distress, an affectionate and engaged style, and the use of firm rather than harsh discipline.
Related Resource: Get Started with Positive Parenting Today: 10 Tips From a Developmental Psychologist
During a child’s development, they learn to cope with the world, regulate their emotions, and manage changes around them. A positive parenting style involves parents having a high response rate to a child’s basic needs and acceptance of their child’s individual needs, which can vary based on a child’s temperament. Parents are more likely to get down on eye level and acknowledge the child’s feelings before moving forward with a solution. This teaches the child to accept that their emotions are valid and to brainstorm ways to solve that issue in a healthy way.
This doesn’t mean that these parents don’t have any rules, boundaries, or demands. It just means that with all the rules and expectations still in place, the parent’s job is to coach their child through big feelings and real-world situations in a healthy manner.
Examples of A Balanced Parenting Style with Limits and Responsiveness
- “I understand you want to jump off the table, but it isn’t safe. Let’s find something else you can jump off of”.
- “Yes, you can have screen time. When that time is up — it’s up. I hear that you feel upset about that. I don’t like turning off my show either.”
- “I can see that you are really upset right now because it is time to go, and you had such a fun time here. It is time to go, and if you need to cry, I’ll be here with you.”
In these examples, there are clear boundaries or limits for children’s behavior — not jumping off the table, turning off the screen, time to go. The sensitive parent has set a boundary, validated their child’s feelings, and provided the start of conflict resolution.
Sensitive or positive parenting falls within the authoritative parenting style and is a balanced approach.
Parenting styles that are gentle or sensitive, like positive parenting, are often confused with permissive parenting. This is not the case. Effective and positive parenting is warm & respectful and has boundaries and limits. It is a balanced approach.
What is the Best Parenting Style for You?
These parenting styles were developed to be able to categorize parents for the purpose of research — thus, they are the versions at the extreme ends of what is likely a continuum. At any given time, we might be a little more strict or less strict, a bit more warm and understanding or less so.
Another important caveat is that some cultural differences may exist — what predicts positive outcomes in western cultures may not be true in other cultures.
What matters is, on the whole, having a balanced approach in which, most of the time, you provide clear limits and boundaries, as well as warmth and sensitivity.
Within developmental psychology, one would say that children raised with an authoritative parenting style are more likely to be independent, self-reliant, and socially competent. This parenting style fits well with sensitive and positive parenting styles.
The key to finding the perfect fit (the goldilocks if you will) of parenting styles is to be flexible. Successful parents will adopt the ability to adjust based on the situation. This balance may look different from family to family, but the important part is having both characteristics of demandingness and responsiveness.
Use these styles to reflect on your own balance of support and control, create a healthy relationship with your child full of respect and love, and overall, use your best judgment in each situation.