Your type of parenting style influences your child’s long-term health, well-being, self-esteem, and relationships with others.1 It’s essential to understand how your parenting choices, values, and attitudes — particularly how you interact with your children and provide love, boundaries, and discipline — influence their growth and development.2 There are many ways to raise our children, and each style has its own characteristics, pros, and cons. However, researchers have identified four general parenting styles, sometimes referred to as Baumrind’s parenting styles.
Baumrind’s Types of Parenting Styles
In her research, psychologist Diana Baumrind identified two elements of a parenting style: authority and affection.3 Authority is how much demand a parent has or how much they try to control their child and their behavior by setting rules, expectations, and standards. Affection is how responsive a parent is toward their child, how love is expressed, and how accepting they are of their child’s perspectives and opinions. Baumrind’s original research identified three main types of parenting styles, and later, research by Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin expanded and added one more. The four types of parenting styles are authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful.4
This type of parenting style is demanding and responsive. The authoritative parent has high expectations of their child (demanding) but is also understanding and responsive to their child’s feelings and needs.4 Some key actions and attitudes that authoritative parents display include:5,6,7
- These parents support their children in regulating and managing their emotions.
- Despite having high expectations, authoritative parents are realistic (age and developmentally appropriate) and usually forgiving of mistakes. Or they help their children learn how to problem solve or resolve things, rather than giving strict punishments or consequences.
- Their attitude is warm, nurturing, and loving toward their child.
- They set clear expectations, monitor their child, and ensure limits are followed.
- This parenting style focuses on natural consequences, which helps children match actions with consequences.
- Children of authoritative parents tend to have higher well-being, improved self-esteem, more self-determination, and higher-quality relationships.
People are often confused about the difference between the authoritative vs. authoritarian types of parenting styles. This is partly because of the similarity of the names; however, they are pretty different. Both have a high level of demand, but the difference is how much affection or nurturing the parent provides. Authoritarian parents are demanding and unresponsive.4 Some key ways they parent include:8,9,10
- Being quite restrictive and controlling
- They focus heavily on punishment and consequences; this can include corporal punishment like spanking and yelling.
- Limits, boundaries, rules, and expectations are generally delivered without explanations, support, or feedback.
- They are less likely to take the child’s opinions, views, etc., into consideration when making decisions.
- Children of authoritarian parents may not be as socially competent or independent (compared to those whose parents follow other styles) because they are told what to do rather than supported to understand why or learn how to problem solve or make choices for themselves. They also tend to have lower self-esteem, poor mood, and well-being.
What is permissive parenting all about? Other names for it include indulgent, lenient, and or non-directive parenting. This style is undemanding and responsive.4 Key behaviors or attitudes displayed by permissive parents include:11,12
- Having a high level of affection but few, if any, expectations, rules, demands, or control. (These parents can be described as “lax.”)
- Permissive parents are very aware of their child’s needs.
- They tend to be accepting of their child’s choices.
- They often prefer being their child’s friend or confidante over playing a parental role. Because of the lack of limits or boundaries, children of permissive parents may not have the skills to regulate their emotions or behave (due to lack of experience with limits or rules).
- Research indicates that children of permissive parents tend to have trouble with impulse control and are more immature and irresponsible. As teens, they are more likely to engage in drug and alcohol use.
Neglectful parents can also be called “uninvolved” or “indifferent.” They are unaware of their child and what they are doing or what they need. This type of parenting style is undemanding and unresponsive.4 It is typified by the following behaviors or actions when parenting:12,13
- They are unable to or cannot provide nurturing, affection, or warmth.
- In many circumstances, a parent engaged in a neglectful style has or is currently experiencing stress or significantly challenging circumstances themselves. It does not change the impact of this parenting style on a child, nor does it change how acceptable it is, but it’s essential to understand the context in which this kind of parenting style could potentially arise.
- Research indicates that children whose parents have a neglectful style are typically more lonely and immature, have lower self-esteem, have trouble in social situations, end up in abusive adult relationships, and engage in risk-taking behaviors as well as drug and alcohol use.
Other Parenting Styles
Beyond these four critical types of parenting styles, there are many other subgroups or styles of parenting. They generally fall under or align with one of the four categories (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, neglectful) because they share similarities. An overview of other parenting styles you might have heard of has been summarised under two main groupings: intentional and harmful.
An intentional parenting style is all about being deliberate; you have a unique take on parenting or have particular values that drive your parenting. It’s important to note that while a parenting style may be purposeful and the underlying intent is good, it does not mean the outcomes are equal (or positive) in terms of long-term effects on a child’s well-being.
Attachment parenting is based on the psychological attachment theory, which refers to the emotional bond between people. There are four types of attachment: secure, insecure, resistant, and disorganized. When people refer to attachment-style parenting, they typically identify with secure attachment. This is described as a child being close enough to their primary caregiver to feel safe and secure but also being provided opportunities to explore the world and return when they feel unsafe, scared, or confused. In secure attachment, the primary caregiver is a secure base.14,15
This parenting style is described as recognizing children as individuals and accepting and responsive to their needs. It can sometimes be confused with permissive parenting, but they are not interchangeable. Permissive parenting has few limits or boundaries, whereas the gentle parenting style has limitations and expectations that are developed sensibly and respectfully and are consistently kept.16 Punishments are not an element of gentle parenting. Instead, the focus is on developing the child’s awareness of their behavior, where it comes from, and how to manage their emotions and responses.16
The slow parenting movement is about intentionally stepping back from over-commitment and overstimulation in our children’s lives (including removing and reducing technology and media use). The goal of slow parents is to reduce organized activities for our children, allow them free play, and give them opportunities to explore their interests at their own pace. This style encourages kids to be self-sufficient and confident because they can be authentic in the interests they pursue.17
Free-range parenting was coined by a New York Columnist (Lenore Skenazy) who wrote the article “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone” in 2008.18 She introduced the concept to oppose the helicopter parent and highlighted her thoughts about not sheltering children too much and, within reason, encouraging them to be independent, roam around, and be confident in their skills and abilities. Although the intentions are positive — unstructured play, a focus on nature play, increasing independence, self-belief, and problem-solving — this style has criticisms that too little control over children could harm their safety (potentially bordering on more harmful types of parenting).18,19
The term “elephant parent” originated in the article “Being an ‘Elephant Mom’ in the Time of the Tiger Mother” by Priyanka Sharma.20 She described the elephant parenting style as being similar to how elephant mothers raise their babies, including replicating strong bonds and being nurturing, supportive, flexible, and protective. It also involves parents being actively involved and interested in their child’s life.
Dolphin parenting is a style that’s similar to the nature of dolphins (playful, intelligent, and highly social). It is seen as being in contrast with the style of tiger moms and jellyfish moms.21 According to the psychiatrist who developed this term (Dr. Shimi Kang), a dolphin parent is a balanced style of parenting that focuses on providing clear and appropriate boundaries without being overprotective. Dolphin parents are equally accepting of a child’s desires and needs while giving opportunities for children to be independent, but ultimately avoiding being completely permissive.21,22
Similar to the permissive parent (and coined by the same psychiatrist who identified the dolphin parenting style), jellyfish parents are relaxed when it comes to rules, possibly a little too relaxed. They give plenty of opportunities for children to lead, but most things are driven by what their child needs, and parents typically have limited control or drive when it comes to decision-making. Jellyfish parents also typically have few (if any) rules or boundaries.21,22
The tiger parent (or “tiger mom”) is a strict parent who focuses on ensuring their child is high achieving. In particular, in education or high-status extracurricular activities. They prefer achievement over their child’s participation in unstructured play or other social events. The tiger parent has incredibly high expectations of their child; they are very controlling and provide limited opportunities for independence.23,24 They are more likely to engage in punishment and do not accept or take the child’s emotions, needs, or preferences into account when making decisions. In the extreme, failure to succeed or meet the incredibly high expectations of a tiger parent may result in punishment or an increased risk of abuse.23,24
The mindful parenting style focuses on teaching parents to become aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The intention behind this is to help them focus on their child in an intentional, non-judgemental way. This style encourages learning the art of mindfulness to become more present in the moment to enhance parent-child relationships and a parent’s resilience and ability to cope, which, in turn, supports a child’s well-being.25
What is a helicopter parent? The aim of helicopter parents is (mostly) positive but could easily slip into a more harmful parenting style. Helicopter parenting is also called “overparenting.” It involves parents trying to insert or involve themselves in all areas of their child’s life. This includes solving all their problems, and while the intention is to be helpful or protect their children from harm, it can stifle a child’s independence, problem-solving skills, and confidence. The term” helicopter” was chosen because parents “hover,” although it’s often by accident, they can deprive their child of learning opportunities.26
Please note that if you identify with any of these styles, you can seek help and support. But it’s also important to speak out or seek support if you see them replicated in parenting relationships you have witnessed. If you suspect child abuse is occurring, it’s never too late to act. Always seek additional support and guidance or report concerns about abuse to children.
The toxic parenting style is harmful and abusive. It involves abuse, neglect, and a child’s basic needs going unmet. Or the failure of a parent to intervene when there are concerns relating to the harm or safety of their child. It also involves a childhood being entirely disrupted and reducing the child’s self-esteem and well-being. This can lead to lifelong psychological trauma.27
A narcissistic parent typically stems from parents impacted by narcissistic personality disorder (or even just narcissistic traits). Narcissistic parents can be possessive over their children and threatened when they try to be independent. This can involve limited respect for boundaries. The parents’ needs trump the child’s needs with threats, intimidation, gaslighting, and, ultimately, abuse and neglect.28
Which Parenting Style is Most Encouraged in Modern America?
Which style of parenting is referred to as positive parenting? Or the best style to follow? Well, several. Although there are many styles of parenting, one type is highly researched and considered to be the best or most beneficial style: authoritative parenting, or one of its derivatives, like gentle, dolphin, elephant, etc.9 Research indicates that authoritative parents have rules and consequences that are child-specific and age/developmentally appropriate. But, ultimately, take the child’s opinions and needs into account. These elements result in children becoming responsible adults who can comfortably express themselves, meet their needs, generally have positive self-esteem, and are happy and successful.7
Understanding the basic types of parenting styles helps parents decide about raising their children. Ultimately, we might parent using various techniques, or our styles may vary depending on the context or even the age and needs of our kids. But it’s important to know what parenting elements can lead to issues down the line. It’s also essential to know which can support our children with their long-term happiness and well-being. This understanding can help parents learn where they are at, their strengths, and areas they want to adapt or improve.