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Every parent and every child brings strengths, challenges, values, circumstances, cultural influences, and personalities to the family. And all that is dynamic, changing over time as the child develops and life circumstances change.
That means your parenting approach must be unique to you, tailor-made to fit the special relationship between you and your child, and able to adapt to changing realities.
So, things go best when you create your own parenting style that works for you and your family. At the same time, however, there’s research showing the relative advantages of what’s often called an authoritative parenting style, as contrasted with permissive, authoritarian, and neglectful styles.
My advice: learn about the research findings, and consider them as guiding ideas in creating your parenting style.
To begin with, you might take a quiz to identify your style, as it aligns with the research. That will get you started thinking about some relevant factors in determining your style, one that works for your personality and circumstances, as well as your child’s age, temperament, strengths, and challenges.
Four Different Parenting Styles
Authoritarian Parenting Style: The Boss
Authoritarian parents see themselves as the authority figures in their homes. They provide structure and security for their children and don’t welcome challenges. They’re firm believers in control, providing strict rules for their children, reliably tough enforcement of those rules, and discipline. This is the traditional style of parenting, still dominant in some cultures.
Permissive Parenting Style: The Friend
Permissive parents don’t like to set or enforce rules for their kids. They think that their child will find their best way with love and understanding. These parents are big on hugs, cuddles, and acceptance, no matter what, and they try to avoid confrontation and conflict. If you’re old enough to know what a hippie is, you’ll know that hippies often practiced permissive parenting.
Neglectful Parenting Style: The Bystander
Neglectful parents are somewhat disconnected from their children and provide neither dependable warmth nor much security and structure. Their lack of involvement is rarely chosen intentionally but tends to result from one or more causes, including childhood trauma; health problems, whether psychological or physical; addiction; or another serious concern.
Authoritative Parenting Style: The Kind but Demanding Adult
Authoritative parents believe that their child needs love, kindness, and respect and that they also need reliable rules and guidance. They use positive reinforcement and reasoning rather than punishment, providing their child with emotional support, comfort, and high expectations. They think it’s important to listen to their child’s concerns, and they try to see misbehavior as a learning opportunity for themselves and their child.
Best Long-term Outcomes: Authoritative Parenting Style
Authoritative parenting leads to better results in every area, including social, cognitive, and psychological. You can love your child no matter your style, and that is what’s most important in their growing up strong and happy, but most studies show that children’s development goes best in the long run when they have at least one parent with an authoritative style. A child with an authoritative parent is less likely than others to become depressed, anxious, antisocial, or addicted and more likely to succeed in every area of life.
Work Through the Challenges to Establish Your Unique Parenting Style
You may realize that authoritative parenting works best but be experiencing too much stress to provide the consistent love and structure that that parenting style requires. Maybe work, and home demands are in constant conflict. Maybe you’re a single parent with money problems, or you and your partner can’t agree on anything. Maybe you’re experiencing physical or mental health challenges or have nothing left over for dealing with your child’s difficult temperament or special needs.
Sometimes it’s simpler to be the “Boss” or the “Neglectful parent,” perhaps reverting to the style your parents modeled or giving up on reasoning or rule enforcement because life’s too hard. If that’s the case, go easy on yourself. Do the best you can, day by day, and keep working toward a dependably authoritative style, realizing that nobody’s perfect and that the most important thing you can do is to love your child.
Some environments and situations require strict obedience, with no tolerance for the flexibility that’s the hallmark of authoritative parenting. Even the most permissive parent has to become an autocratic boss regarding traffic safety: your child’s survival is at stake if they don’t follow the rules when crossing the road.
And if your child is a member of a targeted minority, you want them to know how to minimize the risk of potentially dangerous encounters with law enforcement and others. This is one of the reasons that some critics have noted that the parenting styles research is culturally biased. Sometimes a more autocratic parenting style—where the child knows they absolutely must follow their parents’ rules—is necessary.
No matter your circumstance, you’re best to try for as warm and psychologically flexible a version of authoritative parenting as possible, where you’re both emotionally responsive and demanding. Adapt your demands to your situation and your child’s changing needs, but do what you can to aim in the general direction of the authoritative parenting style.
I’ve written more about parenting styles in Imperfect Parenting, I describe parents grappling with similar child development challenges using different parenting styles. That way, you can see the different styles in action and think about how to adjust your style to bring it into better alignment with the authoritative parenting styles while still being true to your values, strengths, and circumstance.
Children of flexibly authoritative parents score better on empathy, confidence, kindness, problem-solving, and likability. They do better at school and are more likely to grow into adults who thrive. It’s worth working toward being an authoritative parent.