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Parenting Styles: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

Discover the four main parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful. Which one is yours?
Parenting styles
Updated: May 16, 2024
Table of contents

Psychologists Baumrid, Maccoby, and Martin rated thousands of parents and children along two dimensions: warmth and demandingness. Based on those two dimensions they concluded that each parent falls into one of the four main parenting styles.[1] Why are parenting styles important? Because they play a role in children’s development. 

Let’s have a look at them so you can decide the type of parent you are. 

Authoritative Parenting

Parenting styles

These parents are loving, caring, and warm. They encourage trust and intimacy. They set high expectations and clear rules. Children understand those rules and what the consequences are when they break them. Parents take into consideration their children’s opinions and feelings. Children feel safe and secure because their parents are consistent and establish clear routines. 

How does authoritative parenting influence children? Children of authoritative parents are the ones who do best. These children tend to:

  • Be well-adjusted. 
  • Have good social skills.
  • Do well in school.
  • Have high self-esteem.

Hundreds of studies show that authoritative parenting can be considered the gold standard of parenting. 

Authoritarian Parenting

These parents are demanding and cold. They expect their children to do as they are told. They set strict rules, and they tend to be inflexible and rigid. They do not encourage intimacy nor trust. Parents expect children to do as they are told. 

When they discipline their children, they are harsh, use punishments, and may get physical. They do not explain to the child why their behavior was wrong. 

How does authoritarian parenting influence children? These children are more likely to:

  • Have poor social relations.
  • Have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
  • Do poorly at school.
  • Have lower self-esteem.

Permissive Parenting (Also Called Uninvolved Parenting) 

These parents are warm and responsive, but they don’t expect much from their children. They provide little guidance and direction. They want to be liked by their children, so they avoid conflict.  

They do not set clear limits. They are not consistent in their discipline.  One day they may punish their child for not making the bed and the next day, the same behavior may go unnoticed. 

How do permissive parents influence their children? These children are:

  • More likely to have emotional and behavioral problems.
  • Less likely to do well at school.
  • More likely to have self-regulation issues.

Neglectful Parenting (Also Called Uninvolved Parenting) 

These parents are not demanding nor responsive towards their children’s needs. They are simply not interested in their children’s lives. They don’t set expectations, nor do they offer guidance, support, or supervision.  They offer shelter and food but that’s about it. They don’t discipline their children.

How do neglectful parenting influence children? These children are more likely to:

  • Struggle at school.
  • Lack self-regulation. 
  • Use drugs and alcohol.
  • Engage in delinquency and antisocial behavior. 

Children of neglectful parents are the worst off. 

Let me say something before we continue. You may have noticed that I use the words “tend to” or “are likely” quite a lot. This is because developmental psychology research cannot say 100% that something will happen, it can say that something is likely to happen. Let’s take the example of neglectful parenting. Studies show that children of neglectful parents are very likely to do poorly in life. Does this mean that all neglected children will do badly? No. There are neglected children who do well. We cannot categorically say that all neglected children will struggle, we can only say that neglected children are more likely to struggle. 

Let’s now answer some questions that parents often ask about this topic. 

What About Other Parenting Styles I Have Heard Of?

You may have heard about gentle parenting, helicopter parenting, attachment parenting, laid-back parenting, reflective parenting, natural parenting, and so many others! 

The reality is that most of these parenting styles do the rounds in social media and the press but there is not much (or any) scientific research backing them. 

There is some research on intensive parenting (or helicopter parenting) suggesting that it is linked with negative outcomes for children.[2]

Do I Always Have the Same Parenting Style?

No. Your parenting style may change depending on what is happening in your life. For example, when parents are stressed maybe because they are going through a divorce or have been laid off at work, they are usually harsher with their children.[3] So, a parent that is usually authoritative may become authoritarian. Be mindful of what is happening in your life to understand how you are behaving towards your children.

Many parents do not fit nicely into one category. They may be for example, mostly permissive with a bit of neglect. Like in everything in life, there are many shades of gray in parenting!

Do I Have the Same Parenting Style With All My Children?

No. You may have different parenting styles with each of your children. This happens because parents influence their children, but children also influence their parents.[4] Parenting is a two-way street. Imagine that you have a child that is always happy, loving, and easy. It is likely that you will be authoritative with them. Now, imagine that your other child has always been difficult, is moody, and aloof. It is likely that you will be more authoritarian with them. 

This doesn’t mean that we love one child more than the other. It means that they are different people, and we react differently to them. 

Can I Change My Parenting Style?

Yes. Parenting styles can be changed. There are studies called ‘parenting interventions’ where parents are taught to become ‘better’ parents.[5] I have good news: 

  • Parents can and do change the way they parent.
  • When parents become ‘better’ at parenting, their children do better. 

With the right support and commitment, we can become the parents we want to be more often than not. Remember that the perfect parent doesn’t exist, and our children don’t need a perfect parent. What they need is that we get it right most of the time. 

If you want to change aspects of your parenting that you are not happy with, our REC Parenting therapists are here to support you. 

What if My Partner Has One Parenting Style and I Have Another?

This is a common issue but there is not a lot of research about it.[6] The ideal situation is one where both parents (or at least one) are authoritative.

 If you have two different parenting styles, remember that you and your partner want what is best for your child, even if you disagree about what the ‘best thing’ looks like. Try to find some common ground. 

Does Culture Influence Parenting Styles?

Very much so! We raise our children to fit in the society that we live in.[7] Different societies have different values, beliefs, and traditions, so, parenting is not the same across all cultures. 

Authoritative parenting is more common in Western countries. In contrast, in collectivist countries, parents tend to be more authoritarian. 

What About Parenting Styles for Parents of Neurodivergent Children?

Like all children, neurodivergent children, benefit from authoritative parents. However, these parents may find it more difficult to be warm and responsive towards their children because raising neurodivergent children brings its own challenges.[8] 

It is particularly important for parents raising neurodivergent children to take care of themselves and find a support system. 

My Final Message?

As parents, we are inundated with tips and advice. Just remember one thing: try to be an authoritative parent as often as you can. You won’t get it always right, and that’s OK. Our children don’t need us to get it right all the time. They need us to get it right more often than not. That’s… about it. 

Sources +

[1] Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2018). Parenting styles: A closer look at a well-known concept. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(1), 168–181.

[2] Padilla-Walker, L. M., Son, D., & Nelson, L. J. (2019). Profiles of Helicopter Parenting, Parental Warmth, and Psychological Control During Emerging Adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 9(2), 216769681882362.

[3] Aznar, A., Sowden, P., Bayless, S., Ross, K., Warhurst, A., & Pachi, D. (2021). Home-schooling during COVID-19 lockdown: Effects of coping style, home space, and everyday creativity on stress and home-schooling outcomes. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 10(4), 294–312.

[4] Van Lissa, C. J., Keizer, R., Van Lier, P. A., Meeus, W. H., & Branje, S. (2019). The role of fathers’ versus mothers’ parenting in emotion-regulation development from mid–late adolescence: Disentangling between-family differences from within-family effects. Developmental Psychology, 55(2), 377–389. 

[5] Jeong, J., Franchett, E. E., Ramos de Oliveira, C. V., Rehmani, K., & Yousafzai, A. K. (2021). Parenting interventions to promote early child development in the first three years of life: A global systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS Medicine, 18(5), 1–51.

[6] Yaffe, Y. (2020). Systematic review of the differences between mothers and fathers in parenting styles and practices. Current Psychology, 42(1).

[7] Smetana, J. G. (2017). Current research on parenting styles, dimensions, and beliefs. Current Opinion in Psychology, 15, 19–25. 

[8] Wong, T. S., & Shorey, S. (2022). Experiences of peer support amongst parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders: A qualitative systematic review. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 67. 

Dr. Ana Aznar

About Ana

Dr. Ana Aznar is the founder of REC Parenting. She is a psychologist with a passion to support… Read more

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