4 Parenting Styles – which is yours?

Article by Bright Horizons


One of the interesting things about being a parent is the great variation in how we raise our children. At the same time, there are many commonalities from one parent to another. In fact, there is enough similarity that some researchers have tried to group parents by their parenting styles.

A parenting style refers to the combination of strategies that caregivers use to raise children. In particular, the work of Diane Baumrind in the 1960s created one commonly-referenced categorization of four parenting styles, each with their own distinct names and characteristics:

  • Authoritarian
  • Permissive
  • Neglectful
  • Authoritative

These Baumrind parenting styles are United States-centric and it’s unclear how well these styles describe parents cross-culturally. Each parenting style varies in at least four areas: discipline style, communication, nurturance, and expectations.

The Baumrind Parenting Styles:

1) Authoritarian

Authoritarian parents are often thought of as disciplinarians.

  • They use a strict discipline style with little negotiation possible. Punishment is common.
  • Communication is mostly one way: from parent to child. Rules are not usually explained.
  • Parents with this style are typically less nurturing.
  • Expectations are high with limited flexibility.

2) Permissive

Permissive parents mostly let their children do what they want and offer limited guidance or direction. They tend to be indulgent, acting more like friends than parents.

  • Their discipline style is the opposite of strict. They have limited or no rules and mostly let children figure out problems on their own.
  • Communication is open, but these parents let children decide for themselves rather than giving direction.
  • Parents in this category tend to be warm and nurturing.
  • Expectations are typically minimal or not set by these parents.

3) Neglectful

Neglectful parents give children a lot of freedom and generally stay out of the way. Some parents make a conscious decision to parent in this way, while others do so because they are less interested in parenting or unsure of what to do.

  • No particular discipline style is used. A neglectful parent lets a child do mostly what they want, often out of a lack of information or caring.
  • Communication is limited.
  • This type of parent offers little nurturing.
  • There are few or no expectations of children.

4) Authoritative

This style is thought to be most beneficial to children. Authoritative parents are reasonable, nurturing, and set high, clear expectations. Children with parents who demonstrate this style tend to be self-disciplined and think for themselves.

  • Rules of discipline are clear and the reasons behind them are typically explained.
  • Communication is frequent and appropriate to the child’s level of understanding.
  • Authoritative parents are nurturing.
  • Expectations and goals are high and stated clearly. Children may have input into goals.

What is MY Parenting Style?

Few of us fit neatly into one single parenting style, but rather raise children using a combination of styles. Think of the four styles as a continuum instead of four distinct ways to parent. Ideally, we think about our children and what they need from us at specific points in time.

For example, while a parent may not typically adopt an authoritarian parenting style, there might be times in a child’s life when that style is needed. Or, you might know an authoritarian parent who is nurturing, contrary to the description above.

Factors in How Children “Turn Out”

While it might seem easier for the family when both parents practice the same style of parenting, some research shows that when at least one parent is authoritative, it can be more beneficial for a child than having two parents with the same, less effective style. Of course, there are many influences on who children become than just a parenting style. Some of the other factors that can impact a child’s development include these elements:

  • The child’s temperament and how it “fits” with the parents
  • A teacher’s style of working with children and the match of teaching style to parenting style
  • The influence of a child’s peer group

Nowadays, new names for parenting styles continue to arise. For example, “helicopter parenting” is similar to the authoritative style with more involvement, or some might say over-involvement, in a child’s life. “Free-range parenting” resembles the uninvolved style, with a conscious decision to allow more independent thinking that is in the best interest of the child.

Reflecting on where you fit on this spectrum of parenting styles can be helpful. Taking that one step further, know that any parent with any style at any point in time can benefit from the self-reflection that can come from participating in a parenting class or group discussion. Talking with other parents and a facilitator can also be helpful and reassuring.


Looking for new places to learn about early childhood development? Discover family resources from Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool: https://bit.ly/2BIOBym

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