The 4 Main Parenting Styles: What To Know About Your Style
How you parent your child is a very personal and highly individualized to your situation, personalities, lifestyle, and needs. As such, what it means to be a "good parent" has a lot of different variables: What works for one family won't for another. That's OK.
What we do know is that there are parenting styles that remain fairly consistent—even if these styles present themselves differently in real life. And what are these styles? Well, experts have narrowed it to four of them; here, we explain.
What is a parenting style, and why does it matter?
The concept of four distinct parenting styles was coined in the '60s by psychologist Diana Baumrind, who studied preschool-age children and their behaviors. She then compared said behaviors with the interaction with the kids' parents: the adult's disciplinary strategies, how nurturing and caring they were in times of duress, how they communicated together, and expectations of maturity and control.
What she found was four different styles, those being authoritative, uninvolved, permissive, and disciplinarian (also known as authoritarian). "What it comes down to is where the parent falls on the grid of sensitivity and expectations," says Aliza Pressman, Ph.D., co-founding director and director of clinical programming for the Mount Sinai Parenting Center. "Sensitivity is about warmth and nurturing your child's needs and emotions; expectations are about instilling responsibility in your child and setting boundaries."
While these four styles are distinct, parents may identify behaviors from multiple camps (people are complex, after all); however, it is more about how the parenting style comes across generally.
There is also a major cultural context for these. "How you define what makes up these parenting styles may look different for different cultures and communities," says Pressman. "How one community expresses sensitivity and love may be different from how another community does; just because it's not how you do it doesn't mean they are not being sensitive or that they don't love their child just as much. So these styles still ring true, it's just how they are expressed may be different."
"Authoritarian parents have a rigid, controlling, 'my way or the highway' style of parenting," says licensed psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS. Essentially, the authoritarian parent rules the home like a, well, authoritarian. And as Pressman notes, "The authoritarian parent has high demands, but that's not the problem; the problem is there's low sensitivity."
As for the children, this parenting style can cause the child to feel an absence of control over their lives, lessened self-respect, and an undercurrent of stress. "The child has little to no say, which often leads them to feel more anxious," says Beurkens.
- The answer to "why" is often, "Because I told you so."
- Demanding tasks or setting unattainable goals while also not providing support to help to accomplish them.
- Punishing harshly for minor infractions.
This parenting style is, essentially, the flipped version of the last one. "These parents are highly sensitive and warm, but they don't feel comfortable with boundaries," says Pressman. "These are like your 'best friend' parents."
Beurkens agrees: "They rarely say no to their children, tend to use bribes to shape behavior, and don't generally provide much structure," she says. Unfortunately, this parenting style means kids grow up without structure and therefore "struggle with taking responsibility, do more poorly in school, and tend to have self-esteem problems."
- Doesn't want to punish kids, no matter how big the matter.
- Very good at comforting; very bad at setting boundaries.
- Cares more about their kid liking them than wanting them to grow and develop.
"Uninvolved parents aren't attuned to their child's needs, and generally leave them alone to fend for themselves. They don't take an interest in the child or their activities, and don't spend much time engaging with them," says Beurkens. "This is generally regarded as the most problematic style of parenting."
And at its worst? "This is basically just neglect," says Pressman.
As for the children raised in uninvolved homes, they tend to struggle the most as well. "They have trouble with relationships, academics, self-esteem, mental health, and more," says Beurkens.
- Absent, sometimes physically but almost always emotionally.
- Does not punish children but also does not praise them for good behavior.
- Offers no guidance.
Here, we have the parenting style that actually goes by many names: mindful parenting, gentle parenting, and so on. Essentially, authoritative parenting is the ideal balance of sensitivity and clear expectations, boundaries, and demands that experts and regular folks have been striving for for years. "This is something of a north star," says Pressman. "It feels like, 'I'm in tune with who my child is, but it's not a free-for-all.' It makes a lot of sense: You need guidance as a kid to grow, but the child also needs to feel safe to receive boundaries."
So why does this parenting style work so well? It helps children develop into responsible, caring people—mainly through leading by example. "Authoritative parents are thought to be the most developmentally supportive blend of authoritarian and permissive parents," says Beurkens. "They take the child's thoughts and feelings into account when deciding on the limits and imposing consequences. Children raised by authoritative parents tend to be the most well-adjusted, have good social skills, and better emotional and behavior regulation than those raised in homes where the other three parenting types are utilized."
- All feelings are welcome; all behaviors are not.
- Listens and shows empathy in moments of duress but will also help the child find ways to make the situation better.
- Punishments fit the offense and usually come with an explanation as to why they are in trouble and how to be better going forward.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.