Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What parenting style are you?

Last night my husband and I were having a conversation about disciplining our daughter when she stood up in the bathtub during bathtime- we agreed on the limit: "bathtubs are not for standing in" we quickly said.  But I realized I am definitely the more paranoid parent and always super cautious.  My husband is a little more relaxed and 'laissez-faire' which is a term I had not used in a long time. It brought me back to college and studying the three different parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian or permissive.

When I studied the three types of parenting back in the day, I remember thinking I was going to be the middle of the road style whenever I became a parent. Not the strict one or the ‘let my kids do whatever they want’ opposite end, but the style that was easy going, yet rational with some limit setting too.

Flash forward a few years, and becoming a first time parent it really makes you re-think everything about what kind of parent you want to be. The parenting styles I studied in school are definitely just guidelines, because how on earth could you put all of the parents out there into just 1 of 3 categories?

What exactly are the 3 parenting styles you ask?

1) Authoritarian parenting: This is the type of parent that is very strict, insensitive to children’s needs, demands respect and may practice spanking (corporal punishment) to discipline their children.

This is the type of parent that when we were kids would enforce the rules and when a child asked why the parent replied, “because I said so” with no room for argument or even an explanation as to why the rule was the rule.  I can see the Tiger Mom in this category, as she never let her children have play dates or any fun, just strict rules, rules and more rules.

2) Permissive parenting: This style is the laissez-faire type where parents rarely make demands on their kids, permit them to freely express themselves, and rarely set limits.

When I think of this parent, a 1960’s hippie comes to mind where they let their little kids think freely and come up with their own rules and let them learn their natural consequences.  Or the 2011 version of the parent that lets their child have whatever they want, aka a ‘spoiled brat.’

Or, did you ever have the friend in high school whose mom was trying really hard to be their child’s best friend and never set any rules.  “You want alcohol sweetie, okay, you are only 14 but I will go to the store and buy it for you and your friends!”  Or also, put another way, the ‘uninvolved parent.’

3) Authoritative Parenting: This word always confused me in college, as it sounds like a super strict word when you say it out loud, when in fact it means more of the opposite.  It’s a flexible style of parenting in between the other two. They let their children have some freedom, but also impose limits and give explanations for their restrictions.  These parents set boundaries and use reason in disciplining.

This description sounds like the perfect parent. Easy going, allowing their children to do reasonable age-appropriate activities, but also respectfully enforcing household rules.

And what effects do these styles actually have on kids?

I dug out my text book and after dusting it off, found the answers:

Parents that practiced the authoritarian style of parenting were found to have children who were more fearful, moody, hostile, vulnerable to stress and easily annoyed.

Whereas the permissive style created a pattern of rebellious, impulsive, aimless, and low achievement children.

The authoritative parents had children who were self reliant, cheerful, friendly, coped well with stress and were more achievement oriented.

As a play therapist, it’s easy for me to say that my goal of parenting would be the authoritative parent style, with setting limits with respect, setting boundaries, but also creating an environment for my children to freely express themselves.

Easy breezy? As a parent though in real life, sometimes we think we are going to be one way, but then find ourselves reacting differently. Everybody out there has a different idea of what they want to be as a parent. Maybe you were raised a certain way and want to be the same kind of parent you had as a child, or maybe you want to be the exact opposite of the style your parents used on you.  Have you ever caught yourself saying something and then gasped, “oh my gosh, I sound just like my mother” when that was not your intention at all!

I know I have a strong idea of how I want to be, but I realize you do have to allow room for flexibility and error. The best thing about being a parent? We get to have second chances with our children, so if you don't respond the way you wanted with your child, you can try try again the next time!

Looking at these 3 parenting styles, which one are you or which one do you want to be?


  1. I enjoy reading your blog and often think back on raising my kids. Now that I have grand childfren, I can see things more objectively, of course, and sometimes lament on ways I reacted as a parent. But it is a lot of trial and error, and although we have the best intentions, there are times when all of us are probably a little of all 3 of the categories you described. But overall,
    I agree with you - by taking the middle road you can reach out to your children in a positive yet firm way, in a manner they will hopefully understand with regards to descipline.

  2. Yes, always best to take the middle ground and not be too much on one side or the other.