It seems like every generation has a new style of parenting, and every family does things a bit differently. While no parenting style is perfect, some clearly have more benefits than others. At their core, parenting styles explain what role adults see for themselves and their children in the relationship and home.
The Four Main Styles
Most parenting styles can be grouped into four different quadrants. On the vertical axis is responsiveness — how much a parent responds to the child’s needs and desires. On the horizontal axis is demandingness – how much a parent expects from the child. While many parents will move around the grid and hover closer to the center, it’s useful to look at each of the four quadrants to understand the role parents and children play in each approach.
Permissive – Low Demanding, High Responsiveness
These parents know that “kids will be kids,” and want a fun, friendly relationship. Permissive parents have few expectations beyond what is absolutely essential, and they often don’t enforce the rules they do have. They tend to spend time relating as equals, offering emotional support but not guidance.
- Children feel comfortable sharing successes and failures with their parents
- Parents model empathy and respect
- Lack of parental model for assessing risk, problem-solving, or dealing with conflict
- Easier to develop poor behaviors in personal health, school, and responsibility due to a lack of rules and enforcement
- Little practice setting, enforcing, or respecting boundaries
Uninvolved – Low Demanding, Low Responsiveness
These parents are not active in much of their children’s daily life. They put distance between themselves and the decisions and consequences their children face. Children can make most of their choices and face little punishment.
- Children can develop strong self-sufficiency and basic adult life skills
- Children can blame themselves for lack of parental involvement (“I’m not worth it”), even when the reality could be parental demands elsewhere or lack of parental confidence in child-rearing
- Children tend to do poorly in school due to little structure at home
- Lack of interpersonal skill development necessary in adulthood
Authoritarian – High Demanding, Low Responsiveness
This model requires direction from parents and adherence from children. Parents offer clear expectations and guidelines and consequences when rules are broken. Children independently learn how to meet (or avoid) expectations.
- Rule-following at home often leads to rule-following at school and work
- Parents can set goals and expect children to follow through
- Children know what to expect
- Children who cannot or will not meet expectations often prioritize lying to avoid punishment
- Lack of space to express negative emotions and develop coping skills
- “Because I said so” does not model problem-solving or empathy
- Motivation is all external, so many children have trouble being internally motivated adults
Authoritative – High Demanding, High Responsiveness
In this model, parents consider their children’s feelings during decision-making, but the ultimate authority rests with the adults. Parents offer confident leadership during times of calm as well as stress. Authoritative parents have guidelines and expectations for their children and offer support while children learn how to meet these goals. Standards for both children and parents are clear and reinforce the reciprocal and positive nature of the parent-child relationship.
- Collaborative, “let’s talk about it” approach can help children develop vital skills for adulthood
- Parents model flexibility, problem-solving, assertiveness, empathy, and responsibility
- Can solidify home as a “safe space” to take risks, fail, and learn how to adapt
- Strong bonds that can grow and adapt as the child ages, making it easier to address the needs of toddlers through young adulthood
- Evidence-supported style for healthiest parents and children
- High level of intention and energy from parents can lead to burnout; being self-aware is key
- Challenging to implement when children have multiple primary caregivers; consistency is key with this model, and the realities of a busy life can get in the way
It’s important to remember that no parent is perfect, and one bad day doesn’t undo a lifetime of consistent parenting effort. You can always change and improve your parenting style until you feel confident about your relationship with your children.