Skip to content

Parenting Styles

This was a big topic in the Mama Village mothers groups when we explored four typical styles of parenting, and reflected on which style our parents used. We know from the research that intergenerational parenting plays a huge part in HOW we parent our own children. You would have most likely heard the saying “you parent how your parents parented you”. So what we see is that even if you desire to parent a particular way, the way your parents parented you will slip in at times. It can take a lot of conscious effort to stay on task and push away the parenting behaviours that are not ideal.

So let’s have a look at a summary of the four differing styles.

Authoritarian Parenting

The first is authoritarian parenting, which is the harsh, punishment based type of parenting. In this style the parent believes that “children should be seen and not heard”, that “it’s my way or the highway”. They tend to use a strict discipline style where punishment is common, there is little negotiation or communication with children. The parent has really strict rules and often doesn’t explain these rules to children, but states “because I said so”, which can leave children confused and without an understanding of WHY the rules are the rules.

Children with authoritarian parents don’t get to express their feelings, and parents tend to be less nurturing. Children are not able to share their thoughts and are not able to be involved in problem-solving, they must simply obey the parent.

The evidence tells us that children of authoritarian parents are at a higher risk of developing self-esteem problems because their opinions aren’t valued. They might also become aggressive in their behaviour which is often because they focus a lot of anger towards their parent. A really common outcome for children is that they tend to lie a lot in an effort to avoid punishment.

Permissive Parenting

Next we see permissive parenting, which is on the other end of the spectrum, because these parents mostly let their children do what they want, and they offer limited guidance or direction.

Permissive parents rarely enforce any rules that are set and they don’t give consequences – they are very lenient. They believe that children learn best when they don’t get involved. Communication is open but parents don’t help their child by giving any direction. Parents are quite forgiving and believe “kids will be kids” when the child makes mistakes.

Permissive parents tend to be loving, warm and nurturing, but often take on more a friend role than a parent role in guiding and directing a child.

Children who grow up with permissive parents are also likely to have self-esteem issues, and report a lot of sadness. We know that children crave structure and boundaries, and the lack of these can impact on their mood, as well as leading to behavioural problems, especially when they might not respect authority and rules.

What’s really interesting about this parenting style and the outcomes for children is that there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that children of permissive parents are at a higher risk for health problems like obesity and dental cavities, because permissive parents struggle to limit junk food and don’t enforce teeth brushing. This is the only parenting style that seems to have an impact on children’s physical health.

Uninvolved Parenting

The uninvolved parent is a little different from the permissive parent because although there’s also no structure and boundaries, it often can feel like the parent doesn’t care.

Uninvolved parents give children a lot of freedom, and rarely know where their child is. They don’t spend much time with their child, or ask about school or homework. They don’t set boundaries, give guidance or attention and are often not very nurturing. These parents may border on neglectful, or may become neglectful in meeting children’s basic needs.

Uninvolved parenting may occur as a result of substance abuse such as alcohol or drugs, mental health issues (for example, a depressed parent), or parents who are workaholics or overwhelmed with parenting, or managing a household.

Like authoritarian and permissive parenting, uninvolved parenting can result in children with low self-esteem and unhappiness. These children often perform poorly in school and have frequent behaviour problems.

As you have seen, the first three parenting styles are less than ideal. This brings us to the fourth style, which is the optimal style of parenting as the research shows it is the most beneficial for children.

Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parents are nurturing and set high, clear expectations for their children. Boundaries and rules are enforced but the child’s thoughts and feelings are always considered.

Authoritative parents are really good at creating and maintaining a positive relationship with their child, and have open communication to talk things through. When boundaries are held, parents explain the rationale so that the child understands. These parents are loving and nurturing.

Outcomes for children with authoritative parents are positive. Children are most likely to become responsible adults who feel comfortable expressing their emotions, are happy and successful. These children are really good at making decisions and evaluating safety risks on their own.

If you’d like to learn more about the 4 styles of parenting, please have a look at these links:

Dr Justin Coulson’s Happy Families

Diana Baumrind’s Parenting Styles

Medical review of why parenting styles matter

You might recognise your parents in some of these parenting styles. Sometimes a parent may sit completely in one style and at other times they might move between a couple of them. Take note of yours, because it is likely that the style of your parents may move into the way that you parent your own children.

Dr Justin Coulson outlines in his article which I’ve attached above that there is only one way to parent… 

”studies suggest pretty clearly that there is a right way to parent. It’s authoritatively – with a big emphasis on autonomy support rather than control. By letting go of power and by developing our children’s ability to make good decisions for themselves, we make better kids, and happier families.”

Dr Justin Coulson

Dr Coulson is a host of Parental Guidance 2021, starting on Channel 9 on Monday. It will be interesting to see how he covers these parenting styles as I’ve outlined them above.

Gentle Parenting

This leads us to gentle parenting which is an evidenced-based approach to raising happy, confident children.

This parenting style is composed of four main elements:

  • empathy
  • respect
  • understanding
  • boundaries

Gentle parenting reflects on the principles of authoritative parenting in that it focuses on providing consistent boundaries while also being very compassionate. It focuses on teaching valuable life lessons rather than focusing on punishments.

Research suggests that gentle parenting reduces the risk of your child developing anxiety, and it rarely has a negative impact on children’s mental health in general, unlike authoritarian, permissive or uninvolved parenting.

There can often be confusion in our society where it is thought that gentle parenting is similar to permissive parenting. It is not the case that as a gentle parent we ‘let children walk all over us’ because we don’t discipline our children. Remember, discipline means ‘to teach’, and our focus with gentle parenting is to teach our children with compassion, rather than punish them.

Attachment Parenting

Attachment parenting is another evidenced-based approach to parenting that complements the gentle parenting approach and the authoritative parenting style.

Attachment parenting focuses on the connection parents can develop with their children in order to raise secure, independent and empathetic children. It is believed that a secure, trusting attachment to parents during childhood forms the basis for secure relationships and independence as adults.

Dr William Sears is a well known paediatrician in the United States who developed Attachment Parenting International, which is a worldwide educational association for this style of parenting. In his work, Dr Sears established 8 principles of attachment parenting which are:

  1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting
  2. Feed with love and respect
  3. Respond with sensitivity: dysregulation in children is normal as babies and toddlers don’t have the capacity to understand their emotions – and that ALL emotional outbursts are an effort at communication. These efforts should not be dismissed nor punished.
  4. Use nurturing touch: maximise skin-to-skin touching for babies, and even toddlers for bonding and calming dysregulated children. Babywear as much as possible.
  5. Engage in nighttime parenting: where possible, utilise safe co-sleeping arrangements and respond to baby’s cries as quickly as possible.
  6. Provide constant, loving care
  7. Practice positive discipline: follow the principles of authoritative parenting or gentle parenting.
  8. Strive for balance in personal and family life: parents are encouraged to create a supportive village to prevent parenting burn-out.

If you’d like to read more on attachment parenting, please see here. If you’d like to learn how to address the way your parents raised you and how you would like to put authoritative, gentle and attachment parenting into practice, you might like to consider attending a Circle of Security Parenting program, or seeing me individually for extra support.

Finding your feet in your parenting style can take time. It’s often after the first year of our child’s life that we finally come up for air, right about the time when our child can become dysregulated with their emotions and we start to see the more challenging behaviours. It can be a tough time trying to be the parent we want to be, pushing away all the instinctual parenting strategies we have learned from our parents that we don’t like, while at the same time coping with those daily challenges of our little ones.

Remember, no matter what, you don’t have to do parenting alone.