A parenting style is a psychological construct representing standard
strategies that parents use in their child rearing. There are many
differing theories and opinions on the best ways to rear children, as
well as differing levels of time and effort that parents are willing to
Many parents create their own style from a combination of factors, and
these may evolve over time as the children develop their own
personalities and move through life's stages. Parenting style is
affected by both the parents' and children's temperaments, and is
largely based on the influence of one’s own parents and culture. "Most
parents learn parenting practices from their own parents — some they
accept, some they discard." The degree to which a child's education is
part of parenting is a further matter of debate.
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Theories of child rearing
One of the best known theories of parenting style was developed by Diana
Baumrind. She proposed that parents fall into one of three categories:
authoritarian (telling their children exactly what to do), indulgent
(allowing their children to do whatever they wish), or authoritative
(providing rules and guidance without being overbearing). The theory was
later extended to include negligent parents (disregarding the children,
and focusing on other interests).
A number of ethical parenting styles have been proposed, some based on
the authoritarian model of strict obedience to scriptural law (for
example in the Bible), and others based on empathy with the emotional
state of a child.
The intensity of parental involvement remains a matter of debate. At
opposite extremes are Slow parenting in which parents stand back, merely
supporting their children in doing what they want to do as independent
individuals (but guiding them when the children are not developing
healthy attitudes), versus Concerted cultivation in which children are
driven to attend a maximum number of lessons and organized activities,
each designed to teach them a valuable skill which the parent has
decided for them.
Beginning in the 17th century, two philosophers independently wrote
works that have been widely influential in child rearing. John Locke's
1693 book Some Thoughts Concerning Education is a well known foundation
for educational pedagogy from a Puritan standpoint. Locke highlights the
importance of experiences to a child's development, and recommends
developing their physical habits first. In 1762, the French philosopher
Jean-Jacques Rousseau published a volume on education, Emile: or, On
Education. He proposed that early education should be derived less from
books and more from a child's interactions with the world. Of these,
Rousseau is more consistent with slow parenting, and Locke is more for
Other theorists, mainly from the twentieth century, have focused on how
children develop and have had a significant impact on childhood
education and how parents rear their children.
Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development describes how children
represent and reason about the world. This is a developmental stage
theory that consists of a Sensorimotor stage, Preoperational stage,
Concrete operational stage, and Formal operational stage. Piaget was a
pioneer in the field of child development and continues to influence
parents, educators and other theorists.
Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist, proposed eight life stages
through which each person must develop. In each stage, they must
understand and balance two conflicting forces, and so parents might
choose a series of parenting styles that helps each child as appropriate
at each stage. The first five of his eight stages occur in childhood:
The virtue of hope requires balancing trust with mistrust, and typically
occurs from birth to one year old. Will balances autonomy with shame and
doubt around the ages of two to three. Purpose balances initiative with
guilt around the ages of four to six years. Competence balances industry
against inferiority around ages seven to 12. Fidelity contrasts identity
with role confusion, in ages 13 to 19. The remaining adult virtues are
love, care and wisdom.
Rudolf Dreikurs believed that pre-adolescent children's misbehaviour was
caused by their unfulfilled wish to be a member of a social group. He
argued that they then act out a sequence of four mistaken goals: first
they seek attention. If they do not get it, they aim for power, then
revenge and finally feel inadequate. This theory is used in education as
well as parenting, forming a valuable theory upon which to manage
misbehaviour. Other parenting techniques should also be used to
encourage learning and happiness.
Frank Furedi is a sociologist with a particular interest in parenting
and families. He believes that the actions of parents are less decisive
than others claim. He describes the term infant determinism, as the
determination of a person's life prospects by what happens to them
during infancy, arguing that there is little or no evidence for its
truth. While other commercial, governmental and other interests
constantly try to guide parents to do more and worry more for their
children, he believes that children are capable of developing well in
almost any circumstances. Furedi quotes Steve Petersen of Washington
University: "development really wants to happen. It takes very
impoverished environments to interfere with development ... [just] don't
raise your child in a closet, starve them, or hit them on the head with
a frying pan." Similarly, the journalist Tim Gill has expressed concern
about excessive risk aversion by parents and those responsible for
children in his book No Fear. This aversion limits the opportunities for
children to develop sufficient adult skills, particularly in dealing
with risk, but also in performing adventurous and imaginative
Hillary Clinton, former First Lady of the United States, later U.S.
Senator, and current Secretary of State said that "Children are not
rugged individualists", continuing with "everywhere we look, children
are under assault: from violence and neglect, from the break-up of
families, from the temptation of alcohol, tobacco, sex and drug abuse,
from greed, materialism and spiritual emptiness". She endorsed infant
determinism (the idea that a person's life is determined by events
during the first three years of their life, and therefore that parents
must tread very carefully) at the White House Conference on Early
Childhood Development in April 1997, but without scientific evidence.
In 1998, independent scholar Judith Rich Harris published The Nurture
Assumption, in which she argued that scientific evidence especially
behavioral genetics showed that all different forms of parenting do not
have significant effects on children's development, short of cases of
severe abuse or neglect. The purported effects of different forms of
parenting are all illusions caused by heredity, the culture at large,
and children's own influence on how their parents treat them.
Baumrind's four general parenting styles
In her research, Diana Baumrind found what she considered to be the four
basic elements that could help shape successful parenting:
responsiveness vs. unresponsiveness and demanding vs. undemanding. From
these, she identified three general parenting styles: authoritative,
authoritarian, and permissive. Maccoby and Martin expanded the styles to
four: authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent and neglectful. These four
styles of parenting involve combinations of acceptance and
responsiveness on the one hand and demand and control on the other.
Baumrind believed that parents should be neither punitive nor aloof.
Rather, they should develop rules for their children and be affectionate
with them. These parenting styles are meant to describe normal
variations in parenting, not deviant parenting, such as might be
observed in abusive homes. Most parents do not fall neatly in one
category, but fall somewhere in the middle, showing characteristics of
more than one style.
The parent is demanding and responsive. Elaborate becomes propagative
Authoritative parenting, also called 'assertive democratic'or 'balanced'
parenting, is characterized by a child-centered approach that holds high
expectations of maturity. Authoritative parents can understand their
children’s feelings and teach them how to regulate them. They often help
them to find appropriate outlets to solve problems. "Authoritative
parenting encourages children to be independent but still places limits
and controls on their actions." "Extensive verbal give-and-take is
allowed, and parents are warm and nurturant toward the child."
Authoritative parents are not usually as controlling, allowing the child
to explore more freely, thus having them make their own decisions based
upon their own reasoning.
Authoritative parents set limits and demand maturity, but when punishing
a child, the parent will explain his or her motive for their punishment.
"Their punishments are measured and consistent in discipline, not harsh
or arbitrary. Parents will set clear standards for their children,
monitor limits that they set, and also allow children to develop
autonomy. They also expect mature, independent, and age-appropriate
behavior of children." They are attentive to their children’s needs and
concerns, and will typically forgive and teach instead of punishing if a
child falls short. This is supposed to result in children having a
higher self esteem and independence because of the democratic give-take
nature of the authoritative parenting style. This is the most
recommended style of parenting by child-rearing experts.
The parent is demanding but not responsive. Elaborate becomes
Authoritarian parenting, also called strict, is characterized by high
expectations of conformity and compliance to parental rules and
directions, while allowing little open dialogue between parent and
child. "Authoritarian parenting is a restrictive, punitive style in
which parents exhort the child to follow their directions and to respect
their work and effort." Authoritarian parents expect much of their child
but generally do not explain the reasoning for the rules or boundaries.
Authoritarian parents are less responsive to their children’s needs, and
are more likely to spank a child rather than discuss the problem.
Children with this type of parenting may have less social competence as
the parent generally tells the child what to do instead of allowing the
child to choose by him or herself. Nonetheless, researchers have found
that in some cultures and ethnic groups, aspects of authoritarian style
may be associated with more positive child outcomes than Baumrind
expects. "Aspects of traditional Asian child-rearing practices are often
continued by Asian American families. In some cases, these practices
have been described as authoritarian." If the demands are pushed too
forcefully upon the child, the child will break down, rebel, or run
The parent is responsive but not demanding. Elaborate becomes free
Indulgent parenting, also called permissive, nondirective or lenient, is
characterized as having few behavioral expectations for the child.
"Indulgent parenting is a style of parenting in which parents are very
involved with their children but place few demands or controls on them."
Parents are nurturing and accepting, and are very responsive to the
child's needs and wishes. Indulgent parents do not require children to
regulate themselves or behave appropriately. This may result in creating
spoiled brats or "spoiled sweet" children depending on the behavior of
From a recent study,
• The teens least prone to heavy drinking had parents who scored high on
both accountability and warmth.
• So-called 'indulgent' parents, those low on accountability and high on
warmth, nearly tripled the risk of their teen participating in heavy
• 'Strict parents' – high on accountability and low on warmth – more
than doubled their teen’s risk of heavy drinking.
Children of permissive parents may tend to be more impulsive, and as
adolescents, may engage more in misconduct, and in drug use. "Children
never learn to control their own behavior and always expect to get their
way." But in the better cases they are emotionally secure, independent
and are willing to learn and accept defeat. They mature quickly and are
able to live life without the help of someone else. But as previously
noted, the usefulness of these data are limited, as they are only
co-relational and can not rule out effects such as heredity (permissive
parents and their children share hands-off personalities and are likely
to be less driven as their authoritarian counterparts), child-to-parent
effects (unfocused and unmanageable children might discourage their
parents from trying too hard), and local shared cultural values (that
may not emphasize achievement).
The parent is neither demanding nor responsive and not even be
elaborate. Neglectful parenting is also called uninvolved, detached,
dismissive or hands-off. The parents are low in warmth and control, are
generally not involved in their child's life, are disengaged,
undemanding, low in responsiveness, and do not set limits. Neglectful
parenting can also mean dismissing the children's emotions and opinions.
Parents are emotionally unsupportive of their children, but will still
provide their basic needs. Provide basic needs meaning: food, housing,
and toiletries or money for the pre-mentioned.
Children whose parents are neglectful develop the sense that other
aspects of the parents’ lives are more important than they are. Many
children of this parenting style often attempt to provide for themselves
or halt depending on the parent to get a feeling of being independent
and mature beyond their years. Parents, and thus their children, often
display contradictory behavior. Children become emotionally withdrawn
from social situations. This disturbed attachment also impacts
relationships later on in life. In adolescence, they may show patterns
of truancy and delinquency.
What may be right for one family or one child may not be suitable for
another. With authoritarian and permissive (indulgent) parenting on
opposite sides of the spectrum, most conventional and modern models of
parenting fall somewhere in between. The model or style that parents
employ depends partly on how they themselves were reared, what they
consider good parenting, the child's temperament, their current
environmental situation, and whether they place more importance on their
own needs or whether they are striving to further their child's future
success. Parents who place greater importance on the child's physical
security may be more authoritarian, while parents who are more concerned
with intellectual development may push their children into a number of
organized extra-curricular activities such as music and language
One of the biggest effects on parenting is socio-economic status, in
reference with ethnicity and culture as well. For example, living in a
dangerous neighborhood could make a parent more authoritarian due to
fear of their environment. Parents who are more highly educated tend to
have better jobs and better financial security, and this reduction of
potential stressors has a significant effect on parenting.
- Attachment parenting – Seeks to create strong emotional bonds,
avoiding physical punishment and accomplishing discipline through
interactions recognizing a child's emotional needs all while focusing on
holistic understanding of the child.
- Christian parenting – The application of biblical principles on
parenting, mainly in the United States. While some Christian parents
follow a stricter and more authoritarian interpretation of the Bible,
others are "grace-based" and share methods advocated in the attachment
parenting and positive parenting theories. Particularly influential on
opposite sides have been James Dobson and his book Dare to Discipline,
and William Sears who has written several parenting books including The
Complete Book of Christian Parenting & Child Care and The Discipline
- Emotion coaching – This style of parenting lays out a loving,
nurturing path for raising happy, well-adjusted, well-behaved children.
It’s called emotion coaching and it feels good to parents and kids
alike. Emotion coaching helps teach your child how to recognize and
express the way he is feeling in an appropriate way.
- Concerted cultivation – A style of parenting that is marked by the
parents' attempts to foster their child's talents through organized
leisure activities. This parenting style is commonly exhibited in middle
and upper class American families.
- Overparenting – Parents who try to involve themselves in every aspect
of their child's life, often attempting to solve all their problems. A
helicopter parent is a colloquial, early 21st-century term for a parent
who pays extremely close attention to his or her children's experiences
and problems, and attempts to sweep all obstacles out of their paths,
particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so
named because, like helicopters, they hover closely overhead. It is a
form of overparenting.
- Nurturant parenting – A family model where children are expected to
explore their surroundings with protection from their parents.
- Slow parenting – Encourages parents to plan and organize less for
their children, instead allowing them to enjoy their childhood and
explore the world at their own pace.
- Strict parenting – An authoritarian approach, places a strong value on
discipline and following inflexible rules as a means to survive and
thrive in a harsh world.
- Parenting For Everyone – A parenting book and one individual's
philosophy that discusses parenting from an ethical point of view.
- Taking Children Seriously – The central idea of this movement is that
it is possible and desirable to raise and educate children without doing
anything to them against their will, or making them do anything against
Dysfunctional parenting styles
- Using (destructively narcissistic parents with rule by fear and
- Abusing (parents who use physical violence, emotional or sexual abuse
to dominate or take advantage of their children)
- Deprivation (control or neglect by withholding love, support,
sympathy, praise, attention, encouragement, supervision, or otherwise
putting their children's well-being at risk)
- Asymmetrical parenting (going to extremes for one child while
continually ignoring the needs of another)
- Perfectionist (fixating on order, prestige, power, and/or perfect
- Dogmatic or cult-like (harsh and inflexible discipline with children
not allowed, within reason, to dissent, question authority, or develop
their own value system)
- Appeasement (parents who reward bad behavior—even by their own
standards, and inevitably punish another child's good behavior in order
to maintain the peace and avoid temper tantrums "Peace at any price")
- Micromanagement (parents who micro-manage their children's lives
and/or relationships among siblings—especially minor conflicts)
- "The deceivers" (well-regarded parents in the community, likely to be
involved in some charitable/non-profit works, who abuse or mistreat one
or more of their children)
- "Public image manager" (sometimes related to above, children warned to
not disclose what fights, abuse, or damage happens at home, or face
severe punishment "Don't tell anyone what goes on in this family")
- Role reversal (parents who expect their minor children to take care of
- "Not your business" (children continuously told that a particular
brother or sister who is often causing problems is none of their
- "The guard dog" (a parent who blindly attacks family members perceived
as causing the slightest upset to their esteemed spouse, partner, or
- "My baby forever" (a mother who will not allow one or more of her
young children to grow up and begin taking care of themselves)
- "Along for the ride" (a reluctant de facto, step, foster, or adoptive
parent who does not truly care about their non-biological child, but
must co-exist in the same home for the sake of their spouse or partner)
- "The politician" (a parent who repeatedly makes or agrees to
children's promises while having little or no intention of keeping them)
- "It's taboo" (parents rebuff any questions children may have about
sexuality, romance, puberty, certain areas of human anatomy, nudity,
- "The identified patient" (one child, usually selected by the mother,
who is forced into going to therapy while the family's overall
dysfunction is kept hidden)
- Münchausen syndrome by proxy (a much more extreme situation than
above, where the child is intentionally made ill by a parent seeking
attention from physicians and other professionals).
Different child-rearing outcomes can be traced to different styles of
parenting, but these are effects, rather than causes of factors that
lead to the child's outcome, namely genetics and culture. As such
successful people are likely to have experienced some forms of parenting
more than less successful people because parenting styles are a
reflection of the parents' and the child's temperaments (both affected
by heredity), and culture. Studying this with any accuracy is very
difficult, if not impossible, and trying to simply connect adult or
adolescent outcomes to the type of parenting used with them without
adjusting for a multitude of other factors will produce misleading or