Parenting Styles 101: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy Kids

You’ve read parenting book after parenting book. You’ve met with teachers, done carpools, worked bake sales, and helped with science fair dioramas of volcanoes and solar systems.

You’re working your heart out as a parent.

You love your kids, you give them guidance, discipline, and you’ve only ever wanted the best for them. But sometimes it seems like- no matter what your parenting style is- it’s just not enough.

Maybe your kids don’t talk to you much. Maybe when you pick them up from school and ask how their day went, you’re lucky to get a two-syllable answer.

Maybe you want a different relationship with your child, and maybe you recognize that some of your parenting choices haven’t been the best in building a good connection with them.

Maybe you wonder how you can do better.

Kids don’t come with an instruction manual, but this guide may just be the next best thing. By the time you’ve read through it, you will better understand how your style of parenting will impact your kids, and what you can do to help give them the best possible chance for happiness and success.

Parenting Styles: What Are They and How Can They Help Me NOT Screw Up My Kid?

A parenting style is a mix of behaviors, strategies, and decisions you use to raise your children. You can also think of it as the emotional environment you create to raise your kids. Parenting practices are specific actions you take as you interact with, teach, and discipline your kids. All of these are reflective of your parenting style.

Knowing your parenting style and the alternatives lets you consider your options as a parent. You may believe your style is already a perfect fit for your family, but try to keep an open mind! You might come across a few ideas that better suit you and your child’s needs.

Or, at the very least, you’ll learn about practices you probably want to avoid altogether.

Psychologists in the U.S. rely on four recognized parenting styles (authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved) that are determined by two basic elements; Responsiveness and Demandingness.

Responsiveness is the amount of independence you’re willing to give your child.

Demandingness is how strictly you require your children to show obedience.

Both categories are “desirable”, and the parenting style that scores high in both has typically resulted in the most positive outcomes.

Guarantees for how a child will turn out are never given. Kids raised in different situations can become shockingly similar, while siblings in the same house can turn out very differently. But over 50 years worth of scientific studies have shown that certain parenting styles tend to lead to more positive outcomes than others.

Your parenting style impacts your relationship with your child as they’re growing up and influences the kind of person they will become.

Baumrind Parenting Styles: The Four Styles of American Parenting (Which are Good, and Which Could Get You Thrown in Prison)

Psychologist Dr. Diana Baumrind conducted research during the 1960s on hundreds of American children and their families. She examined factors like communication styles, expectations of maturity and control, and levels of warmth and nurturing. She found that different types of behavior in children are strongly related to different parenting styles.

Baumrind created 3 of the 4 parenting styles recognized by psychologists (authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive). The fourth style, uninvolved (or neglectful) parenting, was added later by psychologists Maccoby and Martin.

Authoritarian Parenting Style

(Low Responsiveness, High Demandingness)

If you’re an authoritarian parent, you probably have high demands and strict rules that you expect your kids to follow without question. It’s possible that you don’t explain the reasons behind your rules, but may still be quick to punish your kids (sometimes harshly) if the rules are broken.

You may provide little guidance to direct your child’s behavior or explain what they should or shouldn’t do in the future. Instead, you might focus on punishment over discipline to make your child feel guilty over their behavior.

As a parent, you expect your children to be obedient and you might not be willing to compromise over your high expectations. At times your demands may actually be unreasonable, depending on your child’s age and ability.

Common examples of this include forcing early potty training before the child is ready and making kids finish everything on their plate when they’re not hungry.

Communication in your home may be one-sided (you to your child) with little give-and-take, and you might not consider your kid’s feelings when making decisions. Other things probably take priority over warmth and nurturing, and you are more likely to use spanking as a punishment.

What authoritarian parenting may look like:

  • You may respond with “Because I said so.” if your child asks about a rule.
  • You may have a “My way or the highway” mentality.
  • You may believe in “Tough love”.
  • You may believe that kids should be seen, not heard.
  • Others might describe you as strict or controlling.
  • You may have a rigid feeding and sleeping schedules for babies.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Children of authoritarian parents can be confused or frustrated, since they are punished for rules that aren’t explained and given no guidance afterwards on how to do better. They may be especially uncertain if they weren’t clearly told what they did wrong.
  • These kids are often more obedient and capable, but typically demonstrate lower self-esteem and general happiness, and have poorer social skills. They may also be more timid, unspontaneous, less independent, and rely almost too heavily on a voice of authority.
  • They are more likely to struggle in school, develop drug problems, and have more dysfunctional coping mechanisms.
  • These children may become aggressive and rebel, and they might become skilled liars to avoid their parent’s strict punishments.

Authoritative Parenting Style

(High Responsiveness, High Demandingness)

Not to be confused with authoritarian parenting, those of you with this parenting style have established rules for your kids to follow, but the relationship between you is more democratic. You want to raise kids who are confident and assertive, but who still follow rules.

You demand a lot from your kids, but you are highly responsive to them and provide plenty of support, warmth, and feedback. You are more nurturing and forgiving when your children break rules or don’t meet expectations, and you use discipline over harsh punishments. When punishments are used, they are reasonable and understood.

You have created a positive relationship with your children that encourages two-way communication. You are likely willing to explain the reasons for your rules and decisions, and you consider your child’s feelings and input. Your goal as a parent is to find a balance between your child’s desires for independence and your need to keep them safe and be listened to.

What authoritative parenting may look like:

  • You are more likely to use positive reinforcement, like praises or rewards.
  • You encourage your child to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • You support your children’s independence but still enforce ground rules.
  • Your relationship with your kids is more give-and-take.
  • You don’t expect blind obedience from your kids.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Out of all of the parenting styles, authoritative parenting has been shown to result in the most positive outcomes for American children. Researchers have repeatedly found that these children are the most likely to become responsible adults who can openly express their opinions.
  • Children of authoritative parents are more likely to see their parents as reasonable and fair, so they are more likely to accept and follow rules and internalize their lessons.
  • These kids are more likely to develop self-control, resourcefulness, and self-esteem. They are also more likely to be happy, successful, show fewer violent tendencies, and have better mental health.
  • These children have been shown to have better academic success and more independence.

Permissive Parenting Style (A.K.A. Indulgent Parenting)

(High Responsiveness, Low Demandingness)

If you identify as a permissive parent, you probably make few demands of your children and likely avoid disciplining or punishing them. You may be lenient and have few or no established rules, so your children largely do as they please and self-regulate. Any rules you do have might not be enforced, so discipline is likely inconsistent and less effective.

You likely want to encourage your child’s sense of self and creative freedom, and you pride yourself on being more open and nurturing than other parents. You work to encourage communication with your kids, but don’t give them as much direction.

You may try to give your kids everything they ask for to make them happy, and you keep your expectations for them minimal so you don’t pressure them. They may have few responsibilities or chores, and may not have bedtimes.

What permissive parenting may look like:

  • You may have a “Kids will be kids” mentality.
  • You may act more like a friend than a parent.
  • You likely have few rules for your kids to follow and you encourage independence.
  • You’re less likely to punish your kids or give consequences for negative actions.
  • You may not have a feeding or sleeping schedule for babies.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Children of permissive parents typically rank lower in self-control and general happiness. They are also more likely to resist authority and often have problems in school. Though they have higher self-esteem, less depression, and more social skills than children raised by authoritarian parents, they still report lower self-esteem and more feelings of sadness than many of their peers.
  • These kids are at higher risk for various health problems like obesity and dental issues, since parents don’t restrict the consumption of unhealthy foods or instill good habits, like brushing their teeth.
  • Because their parents often give in to their requests (or demands) these children can become entitled or egotistical, and feel as though they are deserving of goods or privileges. This makes them more likely to throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want.
  • Any attempt for parents to gain/regain control might be seen as a power struggle that could cause the child to rebel or fight back.
  • Though these kids are often able to speak their minds and think freely and creatively, they are also more likely to face problems in relationships or social interactions.

Uninvolved Parenting Style (A.K.A. Neglectful Parenting)

(Low Responsiveness, Low Demandingness)

If you’re an uninvolved parent, you may work to take care of your child’s basic needs for food and shelter, but are otherwise detached from your child’s life. You likely don’t demand much from your child, but you don’t give them much in the way of support or guidance either. You might set few or no rules for your kids and you rarely enforce punishments if rules are broken.

Communication with your children and the amount of time you spend with them is likely limited. You may not know much about them, and other parents might describe you as being less nurturing or say that you let your children raise themselves.

In extreme cases, uninvolved parenting may become a case of criminal child neglect, when children’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothes, or sleep aren’t met. This can also occur if parents don’t remove safety hazards that younger children could get into.

When this parenting style becomes criminal neglect, it isn’t always intentional. Parents with mental health issues, drug addictions, or who work several jobs may be unable to care for their children’s needs consistently.

What uninvolved parenting may look like:

  • You likely spend little time with your child.
  • You probably don’t ask your kids about school, homework, or their interests and hobbies.
  • You might rarely know where your child is, who they are with, or what they are doing.
  • You may rarely use discipline, if ever, and let your kids dictate themselves.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Children of uninvolved parents are shown to have the lowest levels of self-esteem, self-control, and are often the least socially competent. They are generally considered the worst off compared to children raised under other parenting styles.
  • These kids are often more impulsive, have more mental health issues, and are more likely to develop problems with addiction and delinquency.
  • Children raised with this parenting style are more likely to have problems respecting authority and tend to perform poorly in school.
  • These kids typically have a harder time trusting people or building healthy, meaningful relationships.

Impact of Parenting Styles: The Good, The Bad, and The Worse

What is the best parenting style?

A universally accepted style of parenting that is considered the “best” doesn’t exist, because the effects of different styles change depending on location, cultural norms, race, and socioeconomic status. It’s generally agreed that, as long as children are safe and getting the support that they need to thrive and succeed, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong style.

In the United States, authoritative parenting tends to result in the most positive outcomes for children. Kids raised under this parenting style typically develop into the happiest, most socially balanced kids. This is caused by the combination of high responsiveness and high demandingness involved in this style.

After authoritative parenting, the permissive and authoritarian styles tend to produce the next best results for children’s development, while uninvolved parenting has been shown to typically result in the worst outcomes.

New Parenting Styles for the 21st Century Family: What to Consider and What to Avoid

Several new styles of parenting have appeared over the past few decades. These styles aren’t recognized by psychologists but are often used by popular media or parents who self-identify with the styles.

Helicopter Parenting Style

Similar to authoritative parenting, this style includes more involvement (oftentimes over-involvement) in children’s lives. If you are one of these parents, you are often considered overprotective, overcontrolling, and overly focused on your child’s life.

You may be especially concerned with your child’s successes and failures, and might try to negate consequences for your kids if they do something wrong or aren’t able to achieve something on their own. These behaviors can come from overcompensation and attempts to reduce anxiety or guilt.

What helicopter parenting may look like:

  • You may try calling a student’s teacher (or professor) to fix a poor grade.
  • You might choose which kids your child can be friends with.
  • You may over-help with (or even take over) your kid’s homework or school projects.
  • You tend to take too much responsibility for your children and may not let them learn from their mistakes.
  • You might control all of the activities your child does.
  • You might make a lot of your decisions based on fear of things that might happen.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Children raised by helicopter parents can have decreased confidence and lower self-esteem. They may believe that their parents don’t trust them, or that they are incapable because they are never allowed to do things alone.
  • These children may not learn how to deal with loss, disappointment, or failure because their parents try to protect them from those things.
  • Kids of helicopter parents can have increased anxiety, depression, and underdeveloped life skills.
  • These kids may develop a sense of entitlement or feel like they are deserving of things they haven’t earned.

Attachment Parenting Style

If you identify as an attachment parent, you likely ascribe to ideas around attachment theory. You believe that babies naturally need close, physical contact with their caregiver for at least the first few years of their life to be appropriately nurtured.

Your parenting style is often considered a subcategory of authoritative parenting that emphasizes affection and physical interaction. As a parent, you may be considered affectionate and nurturing, and you strive to teach your kids the importance of healthy attachments and relationships.

Attachment parenting has been a controversial style for many years, and further studies of the practice are needed to more fully show the different impacts it can have on child development.

What attachment parenting may look like:

  • You may carry or wear your baby during the first years of their life.
  • You may choose to have your child or baby sleep in the same bed as you.
  • You might respond immediately when your child starts crying.
  • You likely stand against practices like sleep training by letting a baby or toddler “cry it out”.
  • It’s less likely that you think spanking is a reasonable punishment.
  • You may choose to breastfeed your children for a longer period of time than parents who use other styles.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Critics of attachment parenting have claimed that it can lead to children becoming overly dependent on their parents.
  • If parents succeed in creating a secure attachment with their child, the kid is more likely to develop higher self-esteem, self-agency, better coping mechanisms, more social competence, and be able to form better, more trusting relationships.
  • One controversial part of attachment parenting, bed-sharing, has been linked to an increased chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Experts haven’t found any consistent downside to children who experience attachment parenting, but it can be stressful for parents. They may put so much time and energy into caring for their child that they forgo their own needs and self-care.

Free-Range Parenting Style

Those of you who identify as a free-range parent are similar to parents who use either the permissive or uninvolved parenting styles. The difference is that you have actively chosen to allow your child to have more independence because you believe it’s in their best interest. You still have rules and don’t allow your child to do as they please, but you let them do what you believe they can do and encourage them to explore the world.

You must be aware of the potential for free-range parenting to be perceived as neglect by the law. Not everyone has the same definition of “free-range”, and what some consider reasonable, others see as dangerous or neglectful. Places may even have laws against letting children below a specific age do things for themselves.

What free-range parenting may look like:

  • You are likely willing to let your baby explore new environments without helping or interrupting them as long as they’re safe.
  • You may be more willing to allow your children to play independently and unsupervised.
  • You might believe that it’s important for kids to play outside rather than with electronics.
  • You aren’t just a friend to your child (like with permissive parenting) and still take on a full parenting role, but you allow them more freedom.
  • You may allow your children to solve their own problems unless it becomes necessary to get involved.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Children of free-range parents may be more independent and more likely to develop a sense of resilience, confidence, and self-sufficiency.
  • These children may develop improved social skills.
  • Though independence and freedom are important and can teach kids valuable skills, they are technically at increased risk without consistent supervision.
  • The same negative impacts that children face from uninvolved or neglectful parenting can also impact kids of free-range parents if freedom or independence goes too far.

Slow Parenting Style

If you are utilizing a slow parenting style, it means that you are likely trying to respond to the increasingly fast-paced and busy lives that American families face. The goal of this parenting style is to actively try to just be present in all of the important moments in your children’s lives, while also allowing them to have freedom.

You likely believe that life can often be overwhelming for both adults and kids, so it’s important to slow down to enjoy your life and family whenever you can. You prioritize spending time with one another before your kids grow up and gain their own lives.

What slow parenting may look like:

  • You may take time to watch your children live and play and just try to enjoy the moment.
  • You take care not to overschedule your family so that you can all spend time together.
  • You probably don’t allow things like back-to-back playdates or classes, prioritizing the quality of activities over quantity.
  • You may not advocate watching TV and encourage your kids to take up more active play.
  • You may designate specific “family time” to bring everyone together for family dinners or game nights.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Slow parenting can give kids the chance to explore the world and develop their problem-solving abilities.
  • Children raised under slow parenting may become more self-sufficient and confident, and they tend to learn how to stay calm and work through stressful situations.
  • These kids tend to learn the importance of taking time to enjoy life early on.
  • Like any parenting style that puts emphasis on children’s freedom or independence, too little supervision could be dangerous and lead to problems.

Over-Parenting Style

If you are an over-parenting parent, your style is similar to that of a helicopter parent. It’s likely that you try to micromanage your children’s lives in order to protect them from perceived threats and from facing consequences for their actions. As a parent, you may also not give many responsibilities to your kids and overindulge them.

Your parenting style may have developed from a desire to manage your own discomfort and fear of your child failing, getting hurt, or making a mistake.

What over-parenting may look like:

  • You may have argued with your child’s teachers, coaches, daycare workers, and others about how your child is being treated.
  • You likely keep your child’s schedule full so that they are always being productive.
  • You may not like letting your child do things alone for fear that they can’t do it right.
  • At times you may take over your child’s projects or homework to make sure they get a good grade.

How this parenting style can affect kids:

  • Children of those with this parenting style may become overly dependent on their parents and not become self-reliant as they grow older, due to overindulgence.
  • These children may feel insecure by the lack of privacy given to them by their parents, and they may become secretive or start to rebel.
  • Micromanaging of children’s activities often means that children aren’t allowed to explore the world or learn to make their own decisions.
  • These children tend to develop higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Those who over-parent and take control of their child’s education can keep them from learning important lessons or achieving their own success.

Surprise! Parenting Isn’t Everything (So What Else Impacts How Kids “Turn Out”?)

It’s important for parents to remember that they are not the only ones who will teach their child about the world and how to act in it. From genetics and temperament to peer groups and teachers, several other factors will affect a child’s development as they grow.

Nature vs. Nurture

Decades of debate seem to have come to an end, as scientists have largely agreed that environment (nurture) and genetics (nature) influence children to roughly equal degrees. Parenting styles typically determine the environment kids are raised in.

Child Temperament and Personality

How well a child’s personality “fits” with their parent’s parenting style can have major impacts on the effects that parenting style can have. It’s also been shown that a child’s temperament can greatly impact the parenting styles their parents use. Kids and parents influence each other.

Parents who start out as permissive, for example, may become more authoritative or authoritarian if their child is aggressive or rebellious, and authoritarian parents may grow more permissive if their child is well-behaved and responsible.

Teachers and Peer Influence

Once children reach school-age, interactions with teachers and friends start having a strong influence on their development and behavior. The ways that teachers work with a child’s parents can also impact their interactions with the child.

The Problems and Complaints You Should Probably Know About Parenting Style Research

Correlation vs. Causation

Just because two things are connected does not mean that one thing caused the other. The links between parenting styles and child development are correlated, but several other factors play a major role. A few studies have also found that the connections between parenting styles and their effects on child development outcomes are sometimes weak, and the expected outcomes do not occur.

Children of authoritative parents, for example, can be defiant and rebellious, and children of permissive parents can become self-confident and succeed in school.

Cultural Differences

Dr. Baumrind developed her parenting style categories based on research conducted only on American families- most of whom were white and middle class. Research has confirmed that the authoritative parenting style tends to result in the best outcomes for European American children, but this is not always the case for African or Asian American children.

The effectiveness of each parenting style can strongly differ across ethnic (Asian, Black, Hispanic) and socioeconomic (income level, education of parents, number of involved parents) backgrounds.

The four parenting styles recognized by American psychologists may not be found across cultures and in other countries.

A study on Korean-American parenting found that over 75% of subjects didn’t fit into any of the four categories (Kim and Rohner 2002), and an international study showed that permissive parenting often resulted in the same positive outcomes as authoritative parenting. At times, the outcomes were even more positive (Calafat et al 2014).

In spite of this, most studies have still shown that authoritative parenting often produces the happiest, most socially balanced children. A 2018 meta-analysis of over 400 studies showed that authoritative parenting is correlated with at least one type of positive result in children’s development around the world, but authoritarian parenting is linked to at least one negative result (Pinquart and Kauser 2018).

You May Have an Idea, But What Kind of Parent ARE YOU?

You probably have an idea which parenting style or combination of styles you use in raising your kids, but you may not be entirely sure. You may wonder why you use the style(s) that you do, or you might wonder how you could adopt a new style that might benefit your kids. Whatever your reasoning, consider asking yourself the following questions to put your role as a parent into a larger perspective. You may discover something new about yourself or find something you’d like to change.

  1. What style of parenting do you think you use in raising your kids? Do you use multiple styles?
  2. What are your expectations and demands of your kids?
  3. How do you punish or discipline your child?
  4. Has your parenting style (whatever it is) been effective? How?
  5. How has your parenting style influenced your child’s development, behavior, and relationship with you?
  6. Is this the kind of relationship you want to have with your child?
  7. What parenting style did your parents use when you were growing up?
  8. How were you impacted by the parenting style your parents used?
  9. Are you actively trying to raise your children differently from how you were raised? Why?
  10. If you are in a relationship, do you and your partner use different parenting styles? What effect do you think this has? Do you think one is more effective?
  11. If you could start over again as a parent, what would you do differently? What would you do the same? Why?

If, even after asking yourself these questions, you’re still not sure what kind of parenting style(s) you use, check out this parenting styles quiz from Psych Central, the internet’s largest and oldest online independent resource for mental health.

Forward, Backward, and Sideways: Everywhere Your Family Should Go From Here

Now that you’ve learned about your parenting style, it’s possible effects, and the alternatives available to you, you can take the time to explore and experiment with your options as a family.

Try a new way of communication, spend time with your kids and ask them about their thoughts and interests. Maybe loosen up the strictness of some rules or pull back some excess freedoms that might be a bit too much for your child to handle at their age. Follow through with discipline, give direction and guidance, and balance your expectations.

Don’t be afraid to try something different if you want a change in your family.

If you want a closer connection with your child, if you want to set firm rules and boundaries, if you want to give them the best chance at happiness and success, and if you want to finally feel like you’re doing enough as a parent, there are so many things you can do. You just have to be willing to try.

In the end, it’s up to you and what you feel is best for your kids.

FAQ

  • Do parents sort neatly into these categories?

Just like every child is unique, so is every parent, and parenting styles are not just individual boxes that every parent fits perfectly into. Parenting styles exist along a sliding scale that people can move up and down on naturally. People often use a combination of styles when raising their kids, and many people may not fit onto the scale at all.

  • What if two parents have different parenting styles?

A study of American high schoolers from the 90s found that teenagers are more likely to have successful outcomes if at least one parent is authoritative, even if the other uses a different style. These families saw better results than those where the parents were united under a single parenting style (Fletcher et al 1999).

I am a freelance writer and certified content marketer that graduated cum laude from the University of Denver (DU).