What are parenting styles and why do they matter?
Parenting is key to having an enjoyable family life and bringing up your children with the right values and morals. It’s also a skill set that’s highly individual and often carried out instinctively. Yet understanding what your natural parenting style is and the impacts it can have will help you to raise even happier children.
This article will give an overview of the different parenting styles and explain the impacts they have on children so you can be aware and, if necessary, make adjustments to your approach.
What is the definition of parenting styles?
Parenting styles define the ways adults nurture, discipline, set expectations and communicate with their children. Although the famous phrase says ‘there is no guidebook for being a parent’, psychologists and child behaviourists have defined some parenting styles which set out the methods and values that influence how adults raise their children.
Alongside the different styles, plenty of research has been conducted into the impact each one has on children’s development and behaviour. Indeed, many studies have suggested there may be links between the way adults parent and the traits of children in later life. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to any parent or child, understanding the most common styles can help mums, dads and carers adjust their approach to each little one’s needs.
What are the different types of parenting styles?
Four parenting styles were first identified and defined by psychologist Diana Baumrind in the 1990s. One of these styles was uninvolved parenting, which isn’t defined here. Since then, extra research has led to the development of other parenting approaches, their attributes and values.
Take a look at the overview of each below to see which one is the closest to your approach.
As the name suggests, this is one of the strictest parenting styles. Parents using this approach are often considered to be disciplinarians and are defined by behaviours and values such as:
- Implementing strict rules with little reasoning and harsh punishments when they’re not followed.
- Setting high, inflexible expectations for their children, including set routines and schedules.
- Having one-way communication from parent to child, sometimes with minimal reasoning or explanation offered.
- Offering less nurturing and warmth, often being dictatorial and obedience-focused in their approach.
Although authoritative parents are firm in their discipline and approach, they are more flexible and nurturing than those following an authoritarian style. In an attempt to strike a balance, authoritative parents will:
- Set out rules and hold children accountable to standards, while giving them guidance and explanations as to why these have been set and how children can reach them.
- Focus on nurturing, supportive coaching and democratic discipline rather than harsh punishments.
- Be clear about who is in charge while encouraging frequent and open conversations.
- A firm but fair approach to discipline, expectation setting and communication.
One of the warmest and most nurturing parenting styles, permissive parenting gives children the most freedom of all approaches and is defined by:
- Very few or inconsistent schedules, guidelines, rules and expectations.
- Having a friend-like relationship with their children rather than acting as a role model.
- Being highly responsive to their children’s needs, involved in their lives and offering plenty of loving communication.
- A minimal, nontraditional approach to discipline, often letting children define their own schedules and rules.
Based on the principles of attachment theory, this style of parenting is an approach that is focused primarily on nurturing children in their early years and can be defined by:
- Prioritising physical closeness and affection between children and parents, minimising separation as much as possible.
- Being sensitive to a little one’s needs and responding with love and respect.
- Taking a positive discipline approach, setting clear rules, expectations and their position as a role model to the child.
- Giving children plenty of consistent physical and emotional support.
Similar in many ways to permissive parenting, a free-range approach encourages children to be as independent and self-reliant as possible by:
- Giving them autonomy and reducing supervision in certain situations, while still setting out general rules and guidelines.
- Keeping children safe while encouraging them to be independent wherever the child feels comfortable and the parents believe they’re capable of doing so.
- Allowing children to explore new environments and situations and supporting them to overcome any natural limits.
What is the impact of each style on children?
Research has shown that there are some generalities in the traits children develop as a result of living under each parenting style. Although these aren’t hard-and-fast rules, they’re important for parents that want to help their children grow into successful, happy adults:
- Authoritarian parenting: the strict rules of this style mean children are more likely to think about the consequences of their actions and less likely to be impulsive. This can lead them to be high achievers in life, though an overly strict approach can turn them into perfectionists and lead them to internalise their emotions.
- Authoritative parenting: considered to be one of the most successful and healthy approaches, children raised under this style tend to be happy, cooperative, balanced, independent and successful.
- Permissive parenting: without any set limits, children with permissive parents aren’t afraid to express themselves. While this can lead to greater creativity and independence, it can also mean they have difficulties adjusting to real-world limits and become anxious or aggressive as a result.
- Attachment parenting: the deep connection children have with attachment parents can help them overcome life’s challenges. However, it can make their adjustment to situations where parents are absent more challenging and be emotionally and physically wearing on their carers.
- Free-range parenting: encouraging greater independence means children develop the resources they need to overcome any challenges themselves, making them resilient and creative. However, different parents and children will have different limits to the situations they can face safely, which is key to be aware of, particularly if there are any age restrictions set under the law.
Which parenting style is best?
As set out in the beginning, parenting styles are a very personal and instinctive choice. Adults may have been influenced by the approach their own parents, carers or peers have taken or want to develop a style that feels natural to them and their family.
However, it's important for parents and carers to be aware of the impact their chosen style could have on their children, including how it could influence their personality or traits as they develop and grow. This will help you to determine if your approach is the most effective and give you the guidelines and tools you need to achieve parenting success and raise children into happy adults.