The Importance of Understanding the 4 Parenting Styles

Do parents make a difference?

Why even bother talking about the 4 parenting styles? Do parents really make a difference or are kids just “born that way”? It’s that whole nature vs nurture debate and the latest research shows that both nature and nurture play a major part of determining child outcomes. Yes, parents do indeed make a difference and play a hugely important role in the outcomes of their children’s lives.

As a parent myself the realization that what I’m doing (or not doing) can have a significant impact on my child’s life makes me feel a bit anxious. But at the same time it motivates me to try to be the best version of the parent me I can be. It’s all part complex set of emotions that come with being a parent. I hope some people can relate to those dual feelings!

Learning about the four parenting styles can be incredibly enlightening to help you better understand your own parenting style and the impact it may be having on your child. It just might help you become a better parent!

Background on The 4 Parenting Styles

A brilliant psychologist named Diana Baumrind is well known for her work in studying American families and defining the four basic parenting styles (she actually defined three and subsequent psychologists added the forth). Her research remains the main paradigm experts use today when talking about parenting styles and the impact on kids. 

Want to try an observation exercise?

Next time you are with other parents and kids try to identify which of the 4 parenting style buckets they fall into. I can almost guarantee everyone will fall into one of the four buckets. Try not to make a judgement; just observation! Parenting styles and values can be highly controversial subject matter so it’s probably best to silently perform this exercise in your head. For example, if you outwardly label your friend a permissive parent she very well may be offended and hurt.   

The 4 Parenting Styles 

  • Authoritarian
  • Permissive
  • Neglective
  • Authoritative

Those are the four parenting styles that virtually all parents fall into.

What do each of the four parenting styles actually mean? Lets explain each of them. 

Note: I am going to slightly exaggerate the behaviors noted below to help paint the picture of each parenting style. Further, the lines can blur on the styles. When observed, most parents have a primary orientation or dominant style. But they may not exhibit behaviors consistent with the style 100% of the time. For example, as much as I aim to be an authoritative parent there are times I’m prone to be more permissive (e.g. after an especially long day where I’m mentally exhausted!). 

4 parenting styles

The 4 Parenting Styles Explained

Authoritarian Parenting: The Old School Parent

Behaviors and Characteristics

  • “Old school” mentality; demanding with high expectations
  • Rigid in approach; do not always “clue in” to child’s feelings or needs in any given situation and flex approach for given situation
  • Have a “my way or the highway” or a “because I said so” approach. Don’t share reasoning with child
  • Generally do not display much affection with their children

Impacts on Kids

  • Can be low in motivation; achievement and obedience often fear based  
  • Often withdrawn and distrustful as preschoolers
  • Girls may lack independence and boys behavior more hostile 
  • Lower social and academic competences as teens

Permissive Parenting: The Friend Parent

Behaviors and Characteristics:

  • Go along with whatever the child wants to do: late bedtimes, unlimited screen time, snacks or treats on demand, play time instead of school work, etc
  • Don’t set or adhere to any structure. Often act as part friend and part parent
  • Don’t sincerely discipline kids when they violate social norms or exhibit bad behavior
  • Provide lots of warmth and love

Impacts on Kids:

  • Little self-control or ability to self-regulate
  • Minimal self-reliance or perseverance
  • Low in achievement orientation
  • Older children prone to drug use and delinquency

Neglective Parenting: The Unavailable Parent

Behaviors and Characteristics:

  • No structure or genuine interest in child
  • No or minimal affection
  • Mentally and/or physically absent from the child’s life

Impacts on Kids:

  • Can show antisocial tendencies and behavior problems
  • More likely to have psychological problems such as depression
  • Can result in low self control and low achievement

Authoritative Parenting: The Balanced Parent

Behaviors and Characteristics:

  • Demanding but fair
  • Strict about following rules and providing consequences but sensible and will adjust as needed
  • Set and enforce limits; within the limits allow significant freedom
  • Explain the “why” behind decisions/consequences and is open with communication
  • Appropriately discipline kids when they violate social norms or display bad behavior
  • Exhibit a high degree of warmth and love 

Impacts on Kids:

  • Best outcomes for kids shown in research
  • Tend to be high in achievement and self-control
  • More popular, self-assured, and competent than their peers

I love how Baumrin summarized her research in the following passage:

The optimal parent-child relationship at any stage of development can be recognized by its balance between parents’ acknowledgement of the child’s immaturity – shown by providing structure, control, and regimen (demandingness) – and the parents’ acknowledgement of the child’s emergence as a confident, competent person – shown by providing stimulation, warmth, and respect for individuality (responsiveness).  Baumrind (1989)

Each Child is Different | There Is No “One Size Fits All” Parenting Style

While research shows the best outcomes tend to be associated with authoritative parenting, it is incumbent on each parent to know their child and adapt as they see fit. To unequivocally state that one parenting style is best in all situations for all kids isn’t realistic or true. Being a perfect authoritative parent 24/7/365 also an impossible expectation for parents to try to live up to. Becoming aware of the four parenting styles is enlightening and hopefully helps make you a more aware, conscious, and ultimately better parent.

We all are living in a real world that is often rather messy. Factors like jobs, relationships, and money complicate life. And each child is different and has his or her own unique personality. The goal in learning about different parenting styles is to help us all become better parents; it is not to shame or judge other parents or even ourselves. Do the best you can and be kind to yourself and fellow parents.

Which parental style most resonates with you? Let us know in the comments below.

Interested in teaching your kids about money? Check out this article on XYZ.