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How Does Your Parenting Style Impact Your Child’s Development?

Updated: 6 days ago

A mother and father cuddle a baby

Choosing the right parenting style is not a one-size-fits-all process--each child is unique and so are their needs! Understanding how different approaches can influence a child's growth and development allows parents to adapt and combine various techniques to best support their child's journey through life.

This article will examine the four traditional types of parenting styles, plus three modern approaches, to provide you with a comprehensive guide to nurturing your child's potential.

In this article:

What do we mean by "parenting style"?

"Parenting style" refers to the overall approach and strategies that parents use to raise their children. Styles are characterized by various aspects of parenting behavior, such as levels of warmth, control, discipline, and communication.

Parenting styles are shaped by factors such as cultural beliefs, personal experiences, and societal expectations, among others.

Pathfinder Health parenting tips

The four main parenting styles

Psychologist Diana Baumrind first introduced the concept of parenting styles in the 1960s after studying preschoolers' behavior and their relationship with their parents. She is widely known for identifying and defining three main parenting styles:

(1) Authoritative

(2) Authoritarian

(3) Permissive

In the 1980s, researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin introduced the concept of a fourth category of parenting:

(4) Uninvolved/neglectful

These types of parenting styles differ in their levels of control, warmth, and communication with children.

This article will explore each style in turn, from its defining characteristics to its benefits and potential risks. Just keep in mind that although we discuss these styles as distinct categories, many parents use a combination of multiple styles, either deliberately or unconsciously.

1. Authoritative parenting style

Authoritative parenting is a balanced and nurturing parenting style characterized by high levels of responsiveness and demandingness.

The key characteristics of authoritative parenting include:

  1. Warmth and support: Authoritative parents are warm, responsive, and affectionate towards their children. They create a positive and supportive environment that fosters emotional security and trust.

  2. Clear expectations: Parents set clear and reasonable expectations for their children. They establish rules and boundaries that are consistent and age-appropriate.

  3. Open communication: Parents encourage open communication with their children. They listen to their child's perspective, provide explanations for rules, and engage in discussions to foster mutual understanding.

  4. Responsive discipline: Authoritative parents use positive reinforcement, logical consequences, and reasoning rather than harsh punishments. Discipline is seen as a teaching opportunity rather than a means of control.

  5. Independence and decision-making: Authoritative parents offer guidance and support while allowing their children to make independent choices and learn from their experiences.

  6. Emotional regulation: By validating emotions and teaching healthy coping strategies, authoritative parents help children develop strong emotional regulation skills, enabling them to manage stress and navigate challenges effectively.

  7. High expectations: While being supportive, authoritative parents have high expectations for their children's behavior and achievements. They seek to provide the necessary resources and encouragement for their children to succeed.

A father kneels to talk to his son

Example of authoritative parenting

A parent sets a rule that their child must complete their homework before watching TV. The parent explains the reasoning behind this rule, emphasizing the importance of time management and completing schoolwork. They offer help with homework if needed and encourage their child to ask questions and seek clarification.

If the child breaks the rule, the parents would have a calm discussion with their child. They would impose a natural consequence, such as not allowing the child to watch TV the following day. They would make sure that the child understands why the rule exists and why it is important for the child to follow the rule.

In this example, the parent demonstrates a balance between establishing expectations and showing understanding, warmth, and respect for the child's feelings and opinions. This approach fosters a positive parent-child relationship built on mutual trust, communication, and support.

Impact on child development

Authoritative parenting fosters emotional intelligence in children through open communication and supportive interactions. Positive reinforcement and guidance can also help boost a child's self-esteem and confidence. As a result, children often develop strong social skills and healthy relationships with others.

Because authoritative parents tend to encourage responsibility and independence, this parenting style is often linked to improved academic performance.

However, the pressure to meet high parental expectations can sometimes lead to stress and anxiety in children or contribute to the development of perfectionistic tendencies.

Over-involvement by parents may also hinder a child's ability to make independent decisions and solve problems on their own.

2. Authoritarian parenting style

Authoritarian parenting is characterized by high levels of control, strict rules, and low levels of warmth and responsiveness.

The key characteristics of authoritarian parenting include:

  1. High control: Authoritarian parents maintain strict control over their children's behavior, typically expecting obedience without question. Rules are rigidly enforced.

  2. Limited flexibility: Authoritarian parents often have little flexibility in their rules and expectations, leading to a "my way or the highway" approach to parenting. Children are expected to comply without negotiation.

  3. Low warmth: This parenting style lacks emotional warmth and responsiveness. Parents may prioritize discipline and rules over emotional support and validation, leading to a distant or cold relationship with their children.

  4. Focus on obedience: Authoritarian parents emphasize obedience and compliance as top priorities. Children are expected to follow instructions without discussion or input, fostering a hierarchical parent-child dynamic.

  5. Punitive discipline: Discipline tends to be punitive and coercive, relying on punishments like yelling, corporal punishment, or withdrawal of privileges to enforce compliance.

  6. Limited independence: Authoritarian parents may restrict their children's autonomy and decision-making, making choices for them rather than allowing them to explore and learn from their experiences.

  7. Emphasis on respect for authority: Authoritarian parents prioritize respect for authority figures and parental directives. Children are expected to show deference to their parents' decisions without questioning or expressing dissent.

  8. Fear-based compliance: Children may comply out of fear of punishment rather than understanding the reasons behind rules, potentially hindering their internalization of values and moral reasoning.

A child cries while a mother is frustrated

Example of authoritarian parenting

A young child accidentally spills a drink on the living room carpet. The parent immediately scolds the child for their mistake without considering that it was an accident. The parent may escalate the situation by shouting, sending the child to their room, or even spanking them.

Instead of offering comfort or understanding, the authoritarian parent emphasizes the child's error and focuses on reprimanding them for their carelessness, instilling a sense of fear and inadequacy.

The child may feel intimidated and anxious about making mistakes in the future, as the authoritarian parent's response creates a climate of fear and strict obedience.

Impact on child development

Children from authoritarian households may excel academically and follow rules well, but they are also more likely to exhibit lower self-esteem, increased anxiety, and poorer social skills. They may obey out of fear rather than understanding, potentially leading to rebellious behavior as they grow older.

They may feel anxious, intimidated, or resentful towards the parent due to their strict rules and lack of communication, which can strain the parent-child relationship.

3. Permissive parenting style

Permissive parents are indulgent and nurturing but set few rules and enforce little discipline. They often avoid confrontation and prioritize their child's immediate happiness.

Key characteristics of this style include:

  1. High warmth: Permissive parents are highly responsive to their children's emotional needs, offering love, support, and affection abundantly. They prioritize creating a close and nurturing relationship with their children.

  2. Low control and structure: Permissive parents have few rules, allowing their children significant freedom to make their own decisions and choices.

  3. Lack of discipline: The parent tends to shy away from enforcing rules or imposing limits on the child's behavior, fearing that setting boundaries may upset the child or disrupt the relationship.

  4. Avoidance of confrontation: Permissive parents may avoid conflict with their children by giving in to their demands to maintain harmony in the relationship. This avoidance of confrontation can lead to a lack of boundary-setting and limits.

  5. Friendship approach: Permissive parents may adopt a "friendship" approach with their children, seeking to be seen as a friend rather than an authority figure.

  6. Few expectations: Permissive parents have minimal expectations for their children's behavior and achievements. They may prioritize their child's happiness and autonomy over setting clear goals or standards.

  7. Indulgence: Permissive parents may indulge their children's desires and whims, providing them with material possessions or granting privileges without requiring responsibility.

Example of permissive parenting

A child demands to purchase a toy every time they visit a store. The parent consistently gives in to the child's requests without considering if it is necessary.

The parent maintains a pattern of indulging the child's requests to avoid conflict or tantrums, prioritizing short-term peace over teaching delayed gratification or responsible decision-making.

The child learns that their desires will be immediately fulfilled without having to wait or work towards earning rewards, promoting impulsive behavior and entitlement.

Impact on child development

While children raised by permissive parents may possess high self-esteem and good social skills, they often struggle with self-control, delayed gratification, and accountability for their actions. They may also have difficulties with authority figures and exhibit behavioral problems.

These children may even experience academic challenges and health-related issues, such as obesity, due to the lack of parental boundaries and expectations.

4. Uninvolved parenting (Neglectful parenting)

Uninvolved or neglectful parenting is not so much a "parenting style" as a lack of involvement, care, and guidance in a child's life.

Uninvolved parents are disengaged, indifferent, and make minimal demands on their children. They provide little emotional support, nurturing, or supervision and lack engagement in their child's life. In more extreme cases, uninvolved parenting can rise to the level of child neglect and/or abuse.

Key characteristics of neglectful parenting include:

  1. Emotional detachment: Uninvolved parents demonstrate a lack of emotional involvement and responsiveness towards their children's needs, emotions, and well-being.

  2. Low involvement: Neglectful parents show little interest or engagement in their children's lives, activities, and development. They may not spend much time with their children or show interest in their interests and concerns.

  3. Limited communication: There is a lack of open dialogue, support, or guidance from parents, leaving children to navigate challenges on their own without parental input.

  4. Neglect of basic needs: Neglectful parents may neglect their children's basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and safety.

  5. Lack of structure: Uninvolved parents provide little to no structure, discipline, or boundaries for their children.

  6. Parental disengagement: Neglectful parents are generally disengaged from the parenting role, often preoccupied with personal issues, work, or other priorities that take precedence over their children's needs and well-being.

A father stares at his phone while a toddler looks on

Example of uninvolved parenting

A young child comes home from school excited to share their artwork and experiences from the day. The parent is busy on their phone and does not greet their child or show any interest in engaging with them.

Impact on child development

Children raised by an uninvolved or neglectful parent may suffer from a host of issues, including low self-esteem, poor self-regulation skills, academic challenges, and higher incidences of substance abuse. They often struggle to form healthy relationships throughout their lives.

If the child experiences physical neglect, they may also experience negative impacts on their physical and mental health due to a lack of nutritious meals, clean clothes, or a safe environment.

Beyond traditional parenting styles: modern trends

In addition to the four traditional parenting styles discussed above, modern parenting practices such as attachment parenting, gentle parenting, and free range parenting have gained popularity among some parents.

These contemporary styles offer alternative approaches that are tailored to the evolving needs of children and families.

1. Attachment parenting

Attachment parenting emphasizes the importance of forming a strong emotional bond between parents and their children. This style of parenting focuses on creating a nurturing and secure attachment with the child, promoting a sense of trust, safety, and comfort.

Key characteristics of attachment parenting include:

  1. Responsive caregiving: Parents respond promptly and sensitively to their child's needs, including feeding, comforting, and soothing, to establish a secure attachment.

  2. Co-sleeping: Many attachment parenting advocates believe in sharing a sleeping space with their child, such as room sharing or bed sharing, to promote closeness and facilitate nighttime bonding.

  3. Babywearing: Using baby carriers or slings to carry infants and toddlers close to the parent's body is common in attachment parenting, promoting physical closeness and bonding.

  4. Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is encouraged because it fosters a strong emotional connection between mother and child.

  5. Positive discipline: Instead of punitive measures, attachment parenting emphasizes positive discipline techniques that focus on teaching and guiding children with empathy and understanding.

  6. Emotional availability: Parents in attachment parenting strive to be emotionally available and attuned to their child's feelings, fostering a sense of security and trust in the parent-child relationship.

A father holds a baby in a carrier while walking in snow

Example of attachment parenting

If a child is having difficulty sharing toys with others, the parent may engage in a dialogue with the child to understand their feelings and perspective. By actively listening to the child's concerns and emotions, the parent can empathize with the child's struggles and collaborate on finding solutions together.

Impact on child development

The attachment parenting style's goal of helping children feel bonded with their parents, supported, and understood can aid them in developing emotional regulation skills and the resilience to navigate challenges and setbacks in life.

This style also helps children learn to trust others and develop empathy and compassion, which enhances their social skills and ability to form healthy relationships.

However, critics argue that attachment parenting may lead to over-dependence on caregivers, potentially hindering a child's own independent growth. Children may also face challenges when they have to transition to school or daycare, where caregivers cannot immediately respond to their needs.

2. Gentle parenting

Gentle parenting is an approach that focuses on empathetic, respectful, and non-punitive methods of raising children. In many ways, it is a repackaged form of authoritative parenting.

Key principles and characteristics of gentle parenting include:

  1. Empathy and understanding: Parents empathize with the child's emotions, perspectives, and needs, seeking to understand and validate their feelings rather than dismiss or minimize them.

  2. Respectful communication: Communication is characterized by respectful and open dialogue between parent and child, fostering trust, cooperation, and mutual understanding.

  3. Positive discipline: Instead of traditional punishment-based discipline, gentle parenting emphasizes positive discipline techniques such as redirection, setting boundaries with empathy, and teaching through natural consequences.

  4. Emotional regulation: Gentle parenting encourages children to express their emotions openly and helps them develop healthy ways to regulate their feelings, promoting emotional intelligence and resilience.

  5. Unconditional love: Parents provide consistent support, affection, and guidance regardless of the child's behavior, fostering a strong parent-child bond.

  6. Empowerment and autonomy: Gentle parenting values empowering children to make choices, solve problems, and learn from mistakes, while respecting their autonomy and individuality.

  7. Modeling behavior: Parents strive to model the behaviors they wish to see in their children, promoting positive values, empathy, and conflict resolution skills through their own actions.

Example of gentle parenting

If a child is upset about not getting their way, a gentle parent may acknowledge the child's feelings by saying, "I see that you're feeling disappointed. It's okay to feel that way. Let's talk about what happened and how we can work through this together." This response shows empathy and encourages the child to express their emotions openly.

Impact on child development

Gentle parenting as a named parenting approach is relatively new, so there is a scarcity of research showing its impact on children.

However, many of the individual aspects of the gentle parenting approach (such as empathy, healthy boundaries, and natural consequences) have been shown to be beneficial for children's development, particularly in the areas of social and emotional development.

In this, gentle parenting mirrors the authoritative parenting style, which was first defined in the 1960's and has been repeatedly shown through research to be beneficial to children.

3. Free range parenting

Free-range parenting emphasizes giving children independence and autonomy to explore the world around them with minimal parental supervision. The goal is to empower children to become self-sufficient and resilient individuals capable of navigating the world around them effectively.

Key aspects of free-range parenting include:

  1. Independence: Free-range parents believe in allowing children the freedom to explore, make choices, and learn from experiences without constant adult intervention.

  2. Risk-taking: Children are encouraged to take calculated risks to help them develop resilience, problem-solving skills, and confidence.

  3. Minimal supervision: Parents give children opportunities to navigate their surroundings independently, promoting self-reliance and decision-making skills.

  4. Natural consequences: Free range parents offer guidance and support to allow children to learn from their mistakes within a safe environment.

  5. Outdoor play: Free-range parenting often encourages outdoor play and exploration, allowing children to engage with nature and their community and promoting physical activity and social interactions.

  6. Safety awareness: Free-range parenting also emphasizes teaching children about safety measures, situational awareness, and risk assessment to ensure their well-being.

Five children run through a field

Example of free-range parenting

A child has a set bedtime but chooses to stay up late reading, despite being reminded of their bedtime. The free range parent might allow the child to stay up late and experience feeling tired the next day as a result of their decision. This natural consequence can serve as a learning opportunity for the child to understand first-hand the importance of getting enough sleep.

Impact on child development

Free-range parenting fosters self-reliance and independence in children, encouraging them to think critically and solve problems on their own. Allowing children to take calculated risks and navigate their environment independently can build resilience and adaptability, essential skills for coping with challenges later in life.

However, it is crucial for parents to consider the potential safety implications, societal perceptions, and legal issues associated with this approach (such as the age at which a child can be left home alone in a particular area) to ensure that it is promoting their child's well-being and development.

Finding your parenting style

Understanding the impact of these parenting styles is crucial, but it's also important to recognize that no single parenting style fits every situation. Many parents use a combination of styles depending on the context and individual child's needs.

Flexibility and a willingness to adapt can be just as important as consistency in parenting!

Combining parenting styles

Combining elements of different parenting styles can be an effective approach to address various situations and meet the diverse needs of your children.

Here are some tips on how to combine parenting styles to find the approach that works best for your family:

  1. Utilize authoritative parenting as a base: Consider using authoritative parenting as a foundational style, as it balances warmth and discipline effectively. This approach allows for flexibility and adjustment based on the circumstances while maintaining clear expectations and support.

  2. Assess specific situations: Evaluate the specific situation at hand, considering factors such as your child's age and temperament. Tailor your parenting approach based on what would be most effective and beneficial in that situation. For example, you may wish to use aspects of attachment parenting with a baby, but transition away from it as they grow.

  3. Be responsive and adaptive: Remain responsive to your child's needs and emotions, adjusting your parenting style accordingly. For instance, in situations where emotional support is crucial, adopt a more nurturing and comforting approach, such as gentle parenting.

  4. Set clear expectations: Establish clear boundaries and expectations for your children, providing them with structure and guidance. This helps create a sense of predictability and security while allowing for flexibility within those boundaries.

  5. Consider the long-term impact: Reflect on how your parenting choices in different situations may impact your child's development in the long run. Aim to strike a balance between meeting immediate needs and fostering skills that will benefit them in the future, such as independence and resilience.

  6. Communicate openly: Foster open communication with your children, encouraging them to express their thoughts and feelings. Listen actively and validate their emotions, building trust and understanding in your relationship.

  7. Seek balance: Strive for a balance between being nurturing and setting boundaries, adapting your approach based on the situation's demands. Flexibility and responsiveness are key in adjusting your parenting style to meet evolving needs.

Frequently asked questions

1. Which of the 4 parenting styles is the best?

The authoritative parenting style is very effective, due to its balance of warmth and structure, but the "best" style may vary depending on individual circumstances. Ultimately, children thrive with a combination of love, support, clear boundaries, and open communication. 

2. Do different cultures have different parenting styles?

Parenting styles can be influenced by traditions, values, and societal norms. Collectivist cultures emphasize community and harmony, often favoring authoritative approaches. Individualistic cultures prioritize independence, possibly leading to more permissive styles.

3. What is permissive vs free-range parenting?

Permissive parenting allows children considerable freedom without strict rules. Free-range parenting encourages independence with parental support, promoting self-reliance through supervised exploration and decision-making within safe boundaries.

The Takeaway

The way we parent profoundly impacts our children's development. By understanding the effects of different parenting styles, we can make informed decisions to help our children grow into healthy, happy, and successful adults.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. The best strategy is one that considers the unique needs of your child, your family values, and circumstances.

Bio of Reba Troxler


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