How Parenting Styles Shape Our Children


Everybody is familiar with the concept of helicopter parents, so-called because they hover around their toddlers. But what happens when kids get a little older and helping them develop gets more complicated than simply to hover or not to hover?

If you teach your children solid values and give them unconditional love, they will probably turn out to be functioning, self-fulfilled adults. But how you get them there? There are four classic parenting “styles”.

Here are four types of parenting styles.

  • Authoritarian parenting
  • Authoritative parenting
  • Permissive parenting
  • Uninvolved parenting

These are based on a report by Diana Baumrind in the 1960s, and are still used by psychologists today. They are derived from the principle that all parenting involves two dimensions:

  • Demandingness, or expecting things of the child
  • Responsiveness, or responding to a child’s needs

In this guide, you will learn about the four classic parenting styles, their characteristics, and their reported strengths and their weaknesses.

You will also read parenting tips that apply to whatever style of parent you are, as well as advice on how to choose the right parenting style for you, your child and your family.   Spoiler alert: there is no one right answer for everybody and often parents choose a blend.


Authoritarian Parenting to Keep Things Under Control

Chapter 1 Authoritarian Parenting

The stereotypical image of a father is of an authoritarian one.  Think Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins. Or Baron von Trapp in Sound of Music.

Authoritarian parenting is high on demandingness and low on responsiveness. It is characterized by:

  • Strict rules to follow
  • A refusal to discuss issues
  • Frequent use of the word “No”
  • Punishments for misbehaviour

Authoritarian parents have been labeled “cruel” and “heartless”.  They practice “tough love”. They follow the mantra that children should be seen and not heard. The parent is the boss, the parent is in charge.  The child’s job is to obey, to learn to follow rules.

At some point, children become adults.  Then all of a sudden, they have to learn how to discipline themselves and exercise self-control.  This can be challenging if all they’ve ever been taught is how to obey rules.

If a child’s only experience with rules is how to obey them or disobey them, as adults they will lack the ability to read nuances and deal with ambiguity. Children in this situation might lack initiative and self-esteem as adults, too.

Resources on authoritarian parenting:

Authoritative Parenting for a Highly Engaged Relationship

Chapter 2 Authoritative Parenting

Psychologists say that this is the most effective parenting style. Authoritative parenting combines a strong hand  from the parent, providing direction and expectations, with empowerment of the child, making them responsible for their actions.

This is the style most frequently used by modern, middle-class Americans.

Authoritative parenting is high on both demandingness and responsiveness. In other words, it is highly engaged parenting. Typical traits of authoritative parenting include:

  • Reasoning with kids
  • Establishing expectations
  • Encouraging communication
  • Setting limits and boundaries
  • Responding to their emotional needs

The goal is to make them independent and self-reliant.  So the parents act as coaches, prodding them to make decisions and take responsibility within the limits they have set. Instead of punishment, authoritative parents rely on discipline.

Whereas authoritarian parents tend to order their children around and permissive parents tend to avoid conflict, authoritative parents try to engage their children in discussion. They can help foster a strong sense of identity and self-confidence dealing with new situations.

Even more than others, ADHD children need that involved and cooperative approach to help them learn the self-discipline that won’t come naturally. Authoritative parenting is by far the best for ADHD children.

Andrea Wada Davies, who herself was an ADHD child, reports on her one-week experiment with authoritative parenting:

But using a more strategic and structured style of parenting, and maybe more importantly, being consistent and strict about it, showed me how much more both my partner and I can help our kids achieve their personal goals and become independent, responsible people.

Resources on authoritative parenting:

Permissive Parenting for Being Friends

Chapter 3 Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting is the easy-going approach, raising free-range children who do what they want how they want.  It’s when you show your children lots of love, and little discipline.  Low levels of discipline might simply be because there are few rules. Or it might be an avoidance of enforcing even those rules that  do exist.

Permissive parenting is high on responsiveness and low on demandingness.  Permissive parents tend to:

  • Set few rules or limits
  • Exert very little control
  • Are accepting and warm
  • Rarely punish their children
  • Frequently use the word “Yes”
  • Are open to discussing a child’s feelings

Permissive parenting is when the parent prefer s to be a child’s friend than the child’s boss.  More important than being respected by the child, is being liked.  As a result, discipline and disapproval are avoided.

This means that children are allowed to get away with bad behaviour.  Parents reason that what the child is doing isn’t all that bad, so it doesn’t need to be punished.  They also reason that a child is only a child once, and are loathe to take away play time and special activities.

The problem is that if children are not taught about limits and self-control on small things when they are young, it is much harder to learn them later on when the stakes are higher. Not having grown up with rules to follow, they will find it hard as adults to accept limitations on their activities and their desires.

Children need guidance to help them develop judgment and values. Parents need to be involved enough to give them guidance, and guidance is not always in the form of praise.

 Resources on permissive parenting:

Uninvolved Parenting

Chapter 4 Uninvolved Parenting

Uninvolved parenting is based on the idea of “live and let live”, that children will find their own way with little guidance; nature will take its course.

Uninvolved parenting is low on both demandingness and responsiveness. It often means:

  • Children are left alone.
  • There are minimal limits or boundaries.

Resources on uninvolved parenting:

Understanding Basic Child Psychology

chapter 5 basic child psychology

To be a better parent, you probably don’t have to know the details of child psychology. The ultimate goal of parenting may be more than having a “happy” child.  Raising childrent to become happy and productive adults who will be a good members of society.

That’s a tall order.

To be a better parent, it helps to understand the basics of child psychology,

There are some ingredients that children need if they are to grow up to be healthy, self-fulfilled adults.

They need self esteem.  That means they need both positive and negative feedback on what they do, and positive feedback on who they are. They need encouragement.  They need to feel supported, which means that empathy is the most important thing to give them.  They need to be pushed sometimes.

Children need to learn to make decisions, because life is ambiguous and is full of choices to make.  They need to have rules, and they need to be able to break them.  But they also need to learn that there are consequences for breaking rules, because that’s how we make decisions.

Children need communication , because that’s how they learn from their parents.

Most of all, children need a good example.  They will model their own behaviour after their parents’.

They will mirror how their parents react to adversity or loss.

They will make decisions in a similar manner to how it appears their parents decide things.

They will love how their parents love and fight how their parents fight.

Resources on basic child psychology:

Power Tips for Better Parenting

chapter 6 parenting tips

With so many parenting styles, are there some strategies that transcend them? Are there some strategies or tips that are just plain good, regardless of the parenting style you adopt.

The answer is “Yes”.

First, show empathy.  By empathy, we mean understanding how the child feels.  If you take the time to listen and to let them know that you understand how they are feeling, your next actions will come across more successfully.

Show empathy:

  • Even when punishing your child
  • Even when supporting your child
  • Even when questioning your child
  • Even when reprimanding your child

Second, give your child responsibility.  That might mean chores, or it might mean something else. Give them something they are in charge of actually doing.  As they get older give them opportunities to make decisions and, yes, to fail. Be there to catch them when they fail, but help them make decisions that will prevent failure the next time.

Third, set boundaries. Real life is full of boundaries. Children have to learn to deal with boundaries and develop self-discipline.

Fourth, don’t stress out over parenting. There are no right or wrong answers, and all you can do is the best you can each day. Your parents weren’t perfect, so they didn’t raise the perfect parent, either. It’s OK.

Fifth. Do things for them.  Make sure they know that you are doing those things for them. Don’t be afraid to take things away from them as a consequence of their actions, though. Make sure that the consequence is as related as possible to the misbehavior.

Resources offering tips for better parenting:

Which Parenting Style is Right for You?

chapter 7 parenting style

These four parenting styles have been presented as four distinct styles.  In truth, most parents might lean toward one style, but have aspects of another. Furthermore, in a two-parent family, it is common to have two different parenting styles.

If you are lucky enough to have a grandparent or an aunt or uncle help with the child rearing, your child might be exposed to multiple styles.  That might be to a child’s benefit, as they learn how to navigate different styles of authority, different levels of decision making and different levels of support.

In other words, it need not be one parenting style or the other.

Even if you are a single parent in a new town (completely on your own), you can pick what aspects of each style to use, or in what situations one style or another is more effective. For instance, you might adopt a more authoritative style when disciplining your child in public to avoid lengthy delays when there is no time.  But you might take  more permissive approach for after-homework time.

You might also choose to change styles as they grow up, starting either very permissive or authoritarian when they are young, then slowly adding more limits or engaging in more discussion.

Nevertheless, it is worth thinking about which style works best for you and your child.

It is also worth exploring what is best for your couple.  Above all, even with radically different styles, it is important for each parent to back up the other one. And if at all possible, don’t place the burden on one parent to always be the “bad cop”, even if it falls more naturally to one than to the other.

While we can identify the ideal style overall, you need to do what works best for your family.

Resources to help choose a parenting style:

What parenting style do you identify with the most?

Let us know in the comments!