Parenting Style

Your Parenting Style

Everyone seems to have an opinion on parenting and what works best.  The bookstore shelves are filled with books written by parenting experts who speak with confidence about how children should be raised.  Some cite research to defend their position.  But, how can research produce such conflicting results?  The answer lies with the quality and methodology of the research.  First, the quality of the data used is dependent upon whether it is retrospective (data from past observations) or prospective (data from present observations).  Retrospective data is obtained through interviews with parents and older children.  Prospective data is obtained through actual observations of children and families.  Second, the methodology used may reach conclusions by associating a preceding event with an outcome rather than truly determining that the preceding event caused the outcome.  When association rather than causation is used, biased researchers can reach the conclusion of their choice.

So, what has emerged as the best parenting research, and what has this research shown to be the best parenting style?

When the search is limited to high quality, prospective, longitudinal research, the decades-long work of psychologist, Diana Baumrind, PhD, emerges as exemplary.[1] Her studies led to the categorization of parenting into three basic styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive.  Researcher E.E. Maccoby added a fourth parenting style of the uninvolved parent.[2] Baumrind identified two fundamental factors of parenting that were differently applied by each of the groups: demandingness (control of behavior, expectations of the child, monitoring of the child) and responsiveness (support and encouragement, fostering individuality, warmth in relationship, communication).

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of each of these parenting styles.  Which one best describes your approach to your child?

Authoritarian parents: Giving orders

High in demandedness, low in responsiveness.  They were harsh in their demands, more controlling, more restrictive, less inclined to explain, more punitive, detached, less warm, and expressed more anger with child disobedience.

Permissive parents: Giving in

Low in demandedness, high in responsiveness.  They were markedly less controlling, minimally demanding, freely granting of the child’s demands, uninvolved with the child, and warmer than authoritarian parents.  They did not feel in control of their child’s behavior.  They were affirming, accepting, and benign toward the child’s impulses and actions.

Uninvolved parents: Giving up

Low in demandedness and in responsiveness.  They made few demands of the child and were mostly unresponsive.  They met the child’s basic needs, but were otherwise detached from the child’s life.  In extreme cases, parents were neglectful of the child.  They did not require mature behavior and were very lenient.

Authoritative parents: Giving responsibilities and choices

High in demandedness and in responsiveness.  They employed a combination of firm control and positive encouragement of a child’s independence.  They affirmed the child’s qualities and, yet, set standards for future conduct.  They made reasonable demands of their children and promoted respect for authority.  They were more consistent with the discipline.

So, what style caused the best outcome?  Baumrind’s findings are not surprising.

  • Authoritarian parents, who were highly demanding but not responsive, reared children who were uncertain, withdrawn, unemotional, and angry.
  • Permissive parents, who were responsive but not demanding, reared children who were unproductive, incompetent, and disruptive.
  • Authoritative parents, who were both highly demanding and highly responsive, reared children who were more socially responsible and assertive, i.e. achievement orientation, friendliness toward peers, cooperativeness with adults, social dominance, nonconforming behavior and intentional.

The most successful parenting style, the authoritative style, uses a balance of positive encouragement with firm behavioral controlPositive encouragement includes an approach that is warm, rational and receptive toward the child. High behavioral control consists of firm discipline and supervision of the child by the parent. Authoritative parenting balances these two fundamental facets of childrearing. Authoritative parents direct the child in a rational issue-oriented manner.  They encourage verbal give-and-take from the child, they share the reason behind their directives, they value expressive attributes of the child, and yet they exert firm control over the child’s behavior.  Their use of power over the child is combined with reasoning.  Data has shown that this parenting style leads to children with greater social responsibility, social assertiveness, and cognitive competency. The consistently positive outcomes of authoritative parenting have been demonstrated into early adolescence in a follow-up study by Baumrind.

For practical advice on how to be an authoritative, loving parent, get a copy of Loving By Leading: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy and Responsible Children.

[1].  Baumrind, D. The development of instrumental competence through socialization. Minnesota Symp Child Psych. 1973;7:3-46.

[2].  Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent–child interaction. In P. H. Mussen & E. M.