The Ultimate Guide to Parenting Styles: Best Practices for 2020

parents making arch with hands over children
parents making arch with hands over children

Are you confused by all the hype about parenting styles? Do you wonder about the difference between parenting styles? Why does it seem like every time you turn around you end up comparing your parenting abilities to some new approach? Are you bewildered by all the conflicting information?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then read on.

Parenting can be daunting and sometimes overwhelming. In the craziness of 2020, it’s even more weird and challenging than before. Understanding and and knowing how to use parenting styles should, for all practical purposes, be helpful to you. Getting a clear picture of the research-based parenting styles is a good beginning. Learning about and comparing newer approaches may also be helpful. As you gain an understanding of the differences and similarities of the styles, both research-based, as well as newer ideas, you’ll be able to see the interconnections.

In this post, you’ll gain that understanding. You’ll hone in on the type of parenting style you’re currently using and what choices you need to make in order to improve your parenting style.

Haphazard parenting, (not a new parenting style), may work for a minute, but will ultimately become frustrating for both parents and children. Learning and understanding the types of parenting styles and making conscious choices will fine tune your approach to parenting and help you bring up kids that are well adjusted to the demands of the world.

4 Parenting Styles Backed by Research

Simply put, parenting styles are psychological approaches and strategies used in child-rearing. Although there is much variation in how people bring up children, there are also numerous commonalities. The original research on parenting styles was conducted by psychologist Diana Baumrind in the early 1960’s. Baumrind’s conclusions indicated 3 types of parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. Psychologists Eleanor Macoby and John Martin later added the category of uninvolved parenting to the list, thus making up the parenting styles psychology accepted by clinical research for the past 50 years.

Baumrind parenting styles have remained constant with slight variations and additions over the years. This ultimate guide explains the 4 parenting styles, those identified by the scientific research of Baumrind, Macoby and Martin, as well as more current ideas that have made their way into popular culture.

The 4 types of parenting styles that have remained tried and true for more than 50 years are:

  • Authoritative Parenting, (seen as best practice)
  • Authoritarian Parenting
  • Permissive Parenting and
  • Uninvolved Parenting

A snapshot of each style is defined below.

Authoritative Parenting: Boundaries, Love and Guidance

The authoritative parent values the parent-child relationship as one of guidance. Parents keep excellent boundaries by enforcing rules and standards of behavior through positive reinforcement, clear explanations of the rules and consistent communication. The child understands that the parent is in charge, but is aware that it is safe to express dissent.

The structure of authoritative parenting helps children to feel secure as they know what is expected of them. Children understand the rules and the consequences of not following the rules are explained and consistently applied. They also know that the parent will listen, even if they don’t agree. Listening well is a hallmark of authoritative parenting, teaching a valuable skill for both children and youth. As kids become better listeners, they become better communicators. Better communicators tend to be more successful in all aspects of life.

Ultimately, authoritative parenting teaches respect for self and others. Children learn to trust themselves and feel loved. Authoritative parenting is sometimes called active parenting.

Authoritarian Parenting: The Parenting Style of Dictators and Autocrats

The authoritarian parent believes they know best for their children. Parents may be heard saying things like “Do as I say, not as I do,” or “It’s my house, my rules.” This style of parenting values power and control over children. Authoritarian parents use punishment instead of discipline as a means of teaching children.

Consequently, children of authoritarian parents often act out in anger, learn to lie, or have problems with self esteem and finding their own voice. Parenting styles authoritarian in nature may work in the short term or when children are smaller, but as kids get older, this style begins to backfire.

Developmentally, children need to find autonomy within themselves and begin to trust themselves. Authoritarian parenting prohibits self expression leaving kids the choice to comply and learn to doubt themselves or rebel against authority and become defiant.

The use of power and control in any relationship usually comes with negative consequences. Child abuse and domestic violence perpetuate power and control in relationships and taken to extremes, authoritarian parenting falls in this category.

Permissive Parenting: “Do What You Will and Don’t Blame Me”

The permissive parent is lenient. They don’t often enforce the rules they set, if they have rules at all. The rules often change on a whim too, without any consistency. Time-outs shortened, and consequences alleviated; the permissive parent doesn’t follow through.

Parents who use permissive parenting are uncomfortable giving guidance. They believe their children will learn best through experience. The parent often becomes more of a friend than a parent to their child and although they may listen, the advice they give is not always sound or reasonable. Sometimes the permissive parent is not a good listener, so the child is left to their own devices to determine what to do.

Children who are raised permissively often struggle academically, socially or physically and may seem sad or confused. As they get older, they may find themselves making bad decisions without insight or awareness. These kids may also experience anger toward their parents as they enter their teen years, acting out aggressively and refusing to comply when asked to follow instructions. They know that there will be no consequences to their actions, but this also leaves a void within them.

Unfortunately, permissive parents often become this way as a result of their own self doubt. If you find yourself parenting permissively, it might be as a result of doubting that you can provide the “right” answers or you might fear that your children will dislike you. Sometimes a fear of abandonment is at the core of permissive parenting. In those cases, it’s important to understand how your own struggles may be affecting your parenting and seek help to correct it.

Uninvolved Parenting: Gone, But Not Forgotten

Uninvolved parents are similar to permissive parents in that they have few or completely unenforced rules and standards of behavior. The difference is that uninvolved parents are even less present in their children’s lives. They expect children to take care of themselves and each other with little assistance from the parents. There are few to no rules or guidance of any type.

Uninvolved parents often don’t know what is going on with their kids. Children are left to fend for themselves.

Sometimes this is not intentional. An uninvolved parent may be suffering from a physical or mental illness that doesn’t allow them to be an effective parent. Additionally, parents experiencing domestic violence, homelessness or any type or drug or alcohol abuse may also become uninvolved. It is often not the parent’s intention, but more a reaction to circumstances that spiral out of control.

Children of uninvolved parents are at risk of health and behavioral problems. They may feel anxious, act out and become depressed. Children raised without guidance suffer in ways that are not always apparent in childhood but show up later in life.

New Parenting Styles Psychology: Is It Really So New?

As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Parenting styles aren’t any different. There may be new names, ideas and nuances for the styles, but essentially, the styles have remained relevant.

Still, we need to define the newer ideas in order to better understand how they all fit together.

Helicopter parenting is a kind of over protective, often smothering style of parenting. This overindulging, hovering style keeps kids from relying on themselves. Parents may attempt to control all aspects of children’s lives. Helicopter parents may themselves be children of permissive or uninvolved parents which in turn leads them to overcompensate.

Regardless, helicopter parenting may protect a child for a while, but in time, this style may hamper self-reliance. Helicopter parenting could fall under a form of authoritarian parenting with the common denominator being a need to control and exert power over the child’s life. It correlates to a kinder, gentler version of traditional authoritarian parenting with control at the root of it.

Parenting like a helicopter, hovering and constantly monitoring, ultimately hampers the healthy independence and growth of children.

Instinctive parenting seems best described as going with what feels right in the moment or parenting from “gut” instincts. From most descriptions, instinctive parenting is a more reactive form of parenting that favors parenting as you think best in the moment or parenting as you were parented. Apparently, there aren’t any guidelines defining instinctive parenting or rules on how best you might do it, but following your own intuition as the guide is the practical norm.

Instinctive parenting could actually be any of the 4 original parenting styles depending on your upbringing and instincts. Instinctive parenting could go very well or very badly depending on the parent’s level of self-awareness, upbringing and mental health.

Attachment parenting promotes a strong emotional bond with the child. Attachment parenting generally shuns strict discipline and corporal punishment. This form of parenting strives to be emotionally available and present, using positive discipline strategies. In many ways, attachment parenting looks like a form of authoritative parenting with a stated, conscious goal of increased emotional bonding between child and parent.

There are numerous positives to creating a strong bond and emotional attachment with your children, but you need to know what motivates you. If you’re drawn to attachment parenting, make sure you understand why. Is it to fulfill your own emotional needs, or the needs of a partner? Or is it a tool to foster wholeness in your child? If it is the latter, then what are the guidelines? How and when do you encourage your child toward more independence and autonomy? Having a plan and focus is imperative. Knowing your motivations is the key to your success.

Ensuring you understand healthy versus unhealthy attachment is a good beginning if you’re planning on using this parenting style. Studying the work of Bowlby and other attachment theory pioneers will help you if you choose to embrace this style of parenting.

Free range parenting, another newer parenting style, is defined as allowing kids the freedom to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Free range parenting is not permissive or uninvolved, but about allowing children the freedom to make mistakes when it’s safe to do so. In this way, free range parenting is much like authoritative parenting with increased flexibility. Teaching kids skills for becoming responsible adults is a goal of free range parenting, and bears similarity to authoritative parenting.

Free range parenting could also be a nuance of permissive parenting if clear guidelines and expectations are not in place. Again, parental motivation, communication and consistency of approach are the key to approaching any healthy parenting style.

Lighthouse parenting, (be like a lighthouse to your child), dolphin parenting, (playful and fun-loving), elephant parenting, (nurturing), and probably lot’s more, are less like parenting styles and more like descriptors of behavior for points in time. Arguably, these descriptors fit into broader parenting styles. For instance, a very demanding tiger mom is much like a helicopter parent with high expectations for her child. High expectations with unyielding demands are a hallmark of authoritarian parenting.

Seeing the interconnections of parenting styles cuts through the confusion. Don’t get hung up on colorful names or definitions, look instead for the similarities and nuances of each style. More than likely, you utilize a combination of styles. If so, noticing and being aware of how you’re parenting will help you find a consistent approach, and hopefully greater success.

Do your best and give your child the tools and skills they need to become a good person in the world. It’s as simple, and difficult as that.

Why is Authoritative Parenting Still the Best?

For many years now, authoritative parenting has been considered the most effective parenting style. Research shows that this style with its clear communication of rules, expectations and boundaries promotes a sense of security in children. Parents provide a clear and consistent framework in which to operate, yet input, discussion and even dissension are allowed. Kids are given tools they need for learning to make solid decisions for themselves.

Every child is unique, with different temperaments and needs. Parenting in an authoritative manner allows you to set the guidelines without rigidity or lack of communication. Authoritative parenting is also nurturing, thereby increasing security in dissension and effectively increasing a child’s ability to make healthy choices.

As with any parenting style, authoritative parenting is a guideline. Use the style as a framework, knowing that your style may change and become more nuanced as your kids get older. The strength of authoritative parenting is a dedication to communication. Clear, concise, consistent communication is important to your effectiveness as a parent.

Wrapping It Up: How to be an Effective Parent

What are the effects of parenting styles on childrens’ behavior? Does it really matter? In short, yes it does. Think back to your childhood and how you were parented. What are the lasting effects it’s had upon you? From that reflection point, you can gain insight into how you want to parent, whether it be similar or dramatically different from your upbringing.

In recent years, studies have been done on the effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, as they’re commonly called. The CDC and Kaiser did the original study in the mid 1990’s but additional research has occurred since that time. The impact of ACEs tells us that how a person parents, and in what circumstances, matters greatly. Additionally, there are protective and risk factors that contribute to the overall effects on children’s lives. For more information on ACEs protective and risk factors, check out this page.

You can begin to focus your parenting style and goals from a clear perspective once you understand what style you’re currently using, what you’d like to do differently and how to make those improvements.

In the end, how you decide to parent is meant for the benefit of your children. Knowing your parenting style goal will increase your ability to achieve that goal. Reflect on your current style and what works, as well as what you’d like to change. Be inquisitive enough to learn new ways. Use the authoritative framework and then find the nuances of approach to create a positive, secure environment for your children.

If you’re curious about your parenting style and you want to test yourself, you can take a parenting styles quiz. Psych Central has one, and Active Parenting Publishers has another, and both seem pretty thorough. Psychology Today has a parenting style quiz that takes 25 minutes to complete but you pay $6.95 for the full results. I took the parenting styles quiz from Active Parenting and it was spot on as to how I parented my now grown children. Active Parenting also offers resources for parenting classes.

There are also parenting styles charts that can be helpful and provide guidance on how to make improvements that assist both you and your children. Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. provides a basic chart in this article, which looks at parenting styles through an evidence-based, cross-cultural lens.

Dependent upon your cultural background and what part of the world you are from, parenting styles may look and play out differently. The original styles were based on a white European model. Knowing this, use the styles as a guide to determine what is best for your family. Nurturance and communication are human needs, but how we nurture and communicate vary with our cultural and geographical backgrounds.

Providing kids the tools to become effective, responsible, happy, healthy humans is the best outcome a parent can hope to achieve. Parenting in a mindful, aware manner will take you miles down the road to success. No one is consistent at all times, but do your best. Give yourself grace when you fail, then dust yourself off and learn from your mistakes.

Utilizing best practices in parenting styles is a way to make you a better parent and help your kids grow to be healthy-minded adults. What more could anyone ask for?

Where we are on our journey of living and loving with our whole hearts is a much stronger indicator of parenting success than anything we can learn from how-to books.

Brené Brown

servant of social good; practical mystic; working to make kindness and good manners popular again.

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