By Annie Garrett (Estimated reading time: 6 minutes)
Gentle Parenting. Peaceful Parenting. Free Range Parenting. Good Enough Parenting. Attachment Parenting. Conscious Parenting. These days it seems like there’s a new parenting strategy to follow each time we look at social media. This can feel overwhelming, but here’s the thing: as a parent educator, I’ve noticed that most of the methods rising to the “top” these days are just freshly repackaged versions of the strategy that psychological research has pointed us toward for over fifty years: the Authoritative Parenting Style.
It makes sense. A term like “Authoritative Parenting” was made for professionals reading research papers, rather than parents following social media. Professionals like Dr. Becky Kennedy, a popular psychologist with an Instagram following of millions, have adapted parenting schools of thought popularized decades ago to the forums millennial parents use, reaching a new audience with a fresh take on long-supported research-based best practices.
So what are “Authoritative Parenting” and its three counterparts, “Authoritarian,” “Permissive,” and “Uninvolved?” And as most people tend toward one type, which type do you tend toward? How close or far is it to the “Authoritative” style that psychologists have been pointing us toward for over 50 years now?
What is a parenting style anyway, and what’s your source?
By definition, “parenting style” has been defined as “…a constellation of parents’ attitudes and behaviors toward children and an emotional climate in which the parents’ behaviors are expressed.” (Darling and Steinberg, 1993). It is influenced by culture and also by the temperament of our children. Seattle-based parenting expert Beth Goss explains:
“The four styles tend to have different labels, depending on your source material. However, all of the models are getting at the same thing. There’s one style, whether it’s called “Emotion Coach” or “Authoritative” or “Democratic,” which emphasizes building relationships with children. The other three styles tend to emphasize compliance, lack of limits, or dismissing the child’s feelings. In our (parent education/cooperative preschool) program, we value empathy, validation, and a large “emotional vocabulary” so the (Authoritative) model dovetails nicely with that.”
Authoritarian Parenting: Following the Rules Will Set You Free
Authoritarian (not to be confused with Authoritative) parents value structure and stoicism. They instill these values in their children through expectations of compliance without complaint. Authoritarian parents tend to be consistent and firm. Children know what to expect and can succeed with basic obedience. Parents use punishment as a means of guidance, and may also use rewards.
In terms of parenting infants, authoritarian parents tend to keep baby on a strict routine. Outcomes of authoritarian parenting are said to be well-disciplined children, but they may suppress their own negative emotions and those of others.
Permissive Parenting: Following Your Own Flow Will Set You Free
Permissive parents value warmth and flexibility. They instill these values in their child by following the lead of the child, and adapting rules and schedules accordingly. Children can expect that their emotions will be met with a warm response, but may not know what to expect in terms of rules and structure. Parents use understanding as a means of guidance.
In terms of parenting infants, permissive parents tend to keep a flexible nap and feeding schedule. Outcomes of permissive parenting are said to be creative and open-minded individuals, but they may struggle to manage frustration in a structured society.
Uninvolved Parenting: Parents Are Free from Responsibility
Uninvolved parents value their own personal freedom and independence. They model these values by allowing their children to do as they wish, such as sleeping, eating, and screentime with little guidance or limits. Children can expect to follow their own preferences and may not have much support from parents in either direction. Parents either do not believe in or do not have the wherewithal to create and enforce limits with consistency.
In terms of parenting infants, uninvolved parents may struggle to keep their child consistently nourished, safe, and well-rested and may not filter with intention the outside influences upon their child. The outcomes of uninvolved parenting tend to be an individual with low self-worth and self-respect.
Authoritative Parenting: Balance and Problem-Solving Will Set You Free
Authoritative parents value balance and health, offering warm understanding and firm limits. They instill these values by accepting all emotions with empathy while also maintaining a healthy structure. Children can expect parents who will help them to learn to regulate their emotions and to problem-solve. Parents use both kindness and firmness to guide their children.
In terms of parenting infants, authoritative parents will keep an adaptable routine, and will allow baby to express their full range of emotions but prevent or limit unsafe environments (think safety proofing) and behaviors (i.e. hitting others). Outcomes of authoritative parenting are said to be healthy, well-balanced adults.
In Summary: A Conceptual Scale
Plotted on two scales, one for the parent-child connection and the other for limit setting, the four styles fall into a quadrant:
|Strong Limits||Weak Limits|
Where do you fall?
Most parents lean toward one style more than another. The internet abounds with quizzes for determining your “style,” such as this quiz from The Gottman Institute (Beth Goss is a trained facilitator). The important thing to remember, says Goss, is that “…no one is perfect. We all use all of the styles at one point or another because we’re human and aren’t always our best selves!”
The Gottman Institute has also put its own spin on the original styles, emphasizing emotional intelligence outcomes. If you take the quiz, here is a key for matching the Gottman terms to the more commonly used terms:
Disapproving → Authoritarian
Laissez Faire → Permissive
Dismissing → Uninvolved
Emotion Coaching → Authoritative
What if this doesn’t quite jive? Does it mean there’s something wrong with me?
Not a bit. Like all research, child development research carries bias.
As most foundational child development research was conducted in university laboratory schools, it carries race and class-based bias in particular, as researchers and their subjects tended to be white and upper middle class. For example, some studies have shown that African American parents may have more positive outcomes using the Authoritarian style than European American parents.
If you find that this information doesn’t resonate with you, consider your cultural context. In order to work, the parenting style needs to feel authentic. Sure, if you were raised in a different style, it might feel aspirational as well, but it should feel authentic in time. If that time never comes, remember this: quality parenting should always help a child feel well connected to their parents and their culture, so adapt your style accordingly.
Closing Thought: Parenting is a Long Game
Speaking of connection, Goss reminds us that “…you’re going to know your kids for a long time! What do you want your relationship with your child to be like when they’re 10, 15, or 25? Parenting is playing the long game and relationship building starts the day you welcome a child into your life.”
If you’re seeking to parent differently than you were raised, find a short list of resources below, and know that parent coaches are available as consultants and are also built into the model at cooperative preschools like North Seattle Cooperative and South Seattle Cooperative.