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Four Parenting Styles

Developmental theorists categorize parenting styles as authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved. Let’s look at those categories and the possible benefits and downsides of each approach. We’ll start with this illustration to summarize the idea, then walk through the details.


Two Gradients of Parenting Style

Responsiveness. The horizontal line addresses how much attention a parent pays to the child’s needs, demands, and unique temperament. Highly responsive parents attempt to foster individuality and independence by being attentive, supportive, and responsive to the child’s needs and the demands of the moment. A non-responsive parent applies the same rules / expectations to all children and all situations.

High Expectations (aka Demandingness), is how high the parent’s expectation is for obedience and “fitting in” to the family rules or to social norms. Demanding parents set clear goals and expectations, confront a child who disobeys, and disciplines when limits are crossed.

Four Parenting Styles

Note, for each I list potential benefits – how things can work out if this style of parenting is done well, and potential pitfalls – if you’re aware of them, you can work to avoid them.

Authoritarian (aka “The Boss”)

The parent is in control, the goals are obedience and reaching high expectations. Parents provide structured environments, set strict rules, and don’t explain rules beyond “I know what’s best for you.” Children may face consequences if they don’t meet standards, and may or may not be rewarded when they do. Children are scolded for showing negative emotions. Parents may not show overt affection. Potential Benefits: Children may perform well in school and not get in much trouble, and may excel at skills that require focus and discipline to learn. Potential Downsides: Some children may rebel and have poor relationships with parents. Some children may experience low self-esteem or an inability to make their own decisions.

Authoritative / Democratic / Balanced (aka “The Friendly Boss”)

The focus in on teaching decision-making, the goal is finding a balance between personal happiness and accomplishment. Democratic parents provide clear, reasonable expectations, explain why they expect children to behave that way, and monitor behavior in a warm and loving manner. Mistakes are used as a chance to teach important lessons rather than as an opportunity for punishment. Parents give limited choices based on developmental ability, balancing freedom with responsibility. Potential Benefits: Children are self-regulated, self-determined, cooperative, and socially responsible. Potential downsides: This style is harder work for the parents than the other styles.

Permissive (aka “The Friend”)

The focus is on meeting the child’s desires in the moment, the long-term goal is a happy life rather than specific accomplishments. Permissive parents have an indulgent laissez-faire attitude. They make few rules and routines, and may not consistently enforce the rules and routines they do establish. They want children to feel free, and have as many choices as possible. They may not have specific expectations for appropriate behavior, and accept their child in a warm and loving way, no matter how the child behaves. Potential Benefits: kids may have high self-esteem, good social skills, low depression, and be creative. Potential Downsides: Might perform poorly in school/work due to challenges with following rules, may alienate people by over-stepping boundaries.


Uninvolved parents may not give any guidance, punishment, or rewards. They may simply be detached, and un-interested in their children and their activities. Most provide the basic needs of life, but shrug off responsibility for their child’s activities and concerns. In extreme cases, this might include rejection and/or neglect. Children tend to be rebellious, irresponsible, perform poorly at school, and show signs of emotional distress.

Inconsistent Parenting (aka Wishy-Washy)

We’re all guilty of this at times… Some days you’re tired so you’re overly permissive and let your child do anything they want; then you over-correct and are overly authoritarian and set strict punishments. This is confusing and stressful for children. Children want to do well, and when the rules change it makes it hard for them to know how to do so. When setting family rules and expectations, be realistic with yourself about what you can consistently enforce.

choices grid

Parenting Style – Approach to Choices

Your parenting style may effect how many choices you let your child make. The authoritarian parent makes the choices for the child, dictating what should be done and what the consequences will be if it’s not done. An authoritative / democratic parent offers limited choices and teaches the child about the consequences of each choice. The permissive parents offers a wide range of acceptable options. The uninvolved parent leaves it to the child to figure out their own way in the world. Learn more here and in my post on how to effectively offer choices.

Learn More about Parenting Styles