If there’s one thing we know about parenting, it’s that there’s a lot of coloring outside the lines—not just for kids, but for adults, too.
A perfect example: Parenting styles.
The term parenting style was actually coined by child development psychologist Diana Baumrind in the 1960s, when she determined that there were four distinct (and quite different) approaches to raising kids after observing preschoolers and conducting research at the University of California, Berkeley. They are:
The definitions for each were determined by two important components: 1) the demands placed by parents on their children and 2) parents’ responsiveness to their kids’ needs.
It goes without saying that every mom or dad has high hopes for how they’ll raise their daughter or son, but there are moments—say, the witching hour, or the moment your four year-old loses his mind in the middle of Target—when staying true to your parenting ideals can feel like a lofty goal. (Yes, it’s OK to cave on the broccoli battle every now and again.)
Still, it helps to know where you stand, value-wise, so that you always have a “compass” of sorts to fall back on—or simply a knowledge of the type of parent you don’t want to be.
To help you chart that course, we’re identifying—and explaining—Baumrind’s four different types of parenting philosophies.
1. Authoritarian Parenting: Rules Are Rules, No Matter What
Signs You Might Be An Authoritarian Parent:
- You believe in rules above all else
- Discipline is non-negotiable, no matter what feelings are involved
- You are frequently heard uttering things like: “My way or the highway.” (Hey, it’s a cliché, but it gets the point across.)
To be an authoritarian parent, you believe that rules matter, and actions have consequence. If a child questions the reasoning behind a decision—say, he asks: “But why do I have to eat broccoli at dinner?”—your reply is short and sweet.“Because I said so—that’s why.”
In fact, negotiations of any kind are off the table with this particular parenting style. Your kids see you as a rule enforcer where there isn’t any room for debate. You also don’t allow your kids to get involved when it comes to problem-solving or voicing their opinion about their own discipline or mistakes.
Instead, punishments take priority, so kids feel immediately sorry for their actions.
Pros and Cons: While this approach to parenting makes boundaries crystal-clear, there’s definitely a downside, according to Psychology Today. Kids with authoritarian parents are at a higher risk for developing self-esteem issues because their thoughts and feelings aren’t ever considered. What’s more, they may tend to be much more hostile and aggressive—not at home, but at school or in other situations where they don’t face the immediate wrath of their parents—as a way to channel their anger.
2. Permissive Parenting: Rules Are Meant to Be Broken
Signs You Might Be A Permissive Parent:
- Your kids laugh at the mention of the word “rule”
- Consequences are something you rattle off, but never ever enforce
- You prefer to parent at a distance (if there’s a serious problem, you’ll get a text, right?)
Permissive parents are best described as being lax and lenient. They believe that “kids will be kids,” but also that consequences don’t have to be followed through on to make an impact.
Case in point: When a discipline issue arises (say, your kid hits a friend who took their toy), you rely on an empty threats (you to your kid: “don’t make mommy give you a time-out”). If something discipline-related does escalate and you decide to make good on your word, that time-out might only last for half the length you promised. (He was screaming from the bedroom that he learned his lesson, so why keep him there for the full five minutes?)
Another quality of a permissive parent is that they tend to act more as a friend than a parent. They want their kid to tell them everything about their lives, but if a conversation comes up where a child is about to make a bad decision, they opt not to step in. They also don’t set limits or encourage good habits, from goal-setting to brushing teeth.
Pros and Cons: Flexibility does have it’s benefits, and it’s great to have parents you can confide in. But academic struggles abound for kids with permissive parents since nothing in their lives—rules, deadlines, goals—are ever enforced or followed up on, according to research published in the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. No limits can also cause children to live life in extremes. (Hey, if no one cares how much junk food I eat in a day, why should I care?)
3. Authoritative Parenting: Expectations, But Also Resources Are King
Signs You Might Be an Authoritative Parent:
- You’re all about setting expectations—and providing the resources kids need to meet them
- You’re a believer in boundaries and consequences, but know there’s a gray area as well
- The why behind something matters to you…a lot
Authoritative parents are often considered the perfect blend of authoritarian and permissive: They set expectations and are warm and nurturing, but they are also clear with their kids that there will be consequences for bad behavior—and ones they’ll follow through on, too.
The big difference between Authoritative and Authoritarian parents (described above) is that kids aren’t expected to obey without question. On the flip side, these parents prefer that their children ask questions and try to understand the reasoning behind discipline and consequences. After all, isn’t that the only way they’ll actually learn from their mistakes?
Going back to that hitting a kid example. An Authoritative Parent wouldn’t immediately send the hitter into a time-out. Instead, they might join their child for the time-out or help them reason through their actions so they not only learn that hitting isn’t OK, but how to problem-solve the same scenario next time.
The bottom line for Authoritative Parents: Your goal is to follow through on discipline, but with an end-game of helping your kids learn how to navigate conflict down the road.
Pros and Cons: There aren’t really any cons to this balanced approach to parenting. Authoritative parents help foster independence, but also teach responsibility and good-choice-making, per a study in the European Online Journal of Natural and Social Sciences. Another plus: When rules and discipline is consistent, it helps kids know what to expect, so they’re not filled with anxiety all the time or confused about who’s in charge.
4. Uninvolved Parenting: Neglectful Is An Understatement
Signs You Might Be an Uninvolved Parent:
- You rarely know where your kid is or who they’re hanging out with
- In your opinion, no questions asked are the best questions asked
- Your belief: Kids are completely capable of raising themselves
The main sign of an uninvolved parent is that they hardly ever have a clue what their kids are up to. They check in—but more often check out—either trusting a caregiver to do the job of providing guidance and love, or, worse, letting their kids parent themselves.
This neglect—or inability to devote much time or energy to a child’s needs—isn’t always intentional. It could be related to a health issue (mental or physical), a time issue or simply a lack of knowledge about child development and what’s required of child-rearing from stage to stage.
Pros and Cons: There aren’t any pros to this style of parenting—children with uninvolved parents typically develop self-esteem issues over time, which leads to behavior and performance issues, especially in the classroom. They also tend to be more anxiety-ridden than their peers, according to a study in the Journal of Education and Practice.
How to Become a More Authoritative Parent
It’s hard to argue with the fact that this style is clearly the best—so how do you make it happen in your household when you’re juggling a million things at once? In most situations, it’s as simple as having a conversation or discussion where you remain open-minded while trying to get to the root of the problem/issue/temper tantrum. Once you do that, any sanctions you impose on your child should have a clear logic to them, according to the American College of Pediatricians, so that your kids have a firm framework for understanding discipline and punishments. One more word to the wise: Get down on their level and look them in the eye. You're in this together, after all.