What’s your parenting style?

There’s no manual for how to become a good parent. There’s also no such thing as a perfect parent. All parents have good days and bad days! However, there are recommended approaches to parenting that can benefit your child’s well-being.


The 4 main parenting styles

According to psychology research, there are four main parenting styles: permissive, authoritative, neglectful, and authoritarian.

By Nathalie Vallerand

According to psychology research, there are four main parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved. These styles are defined according to three main elements that are key to a child’s healthy development:

  • Warmth: If you’re warm and nurturing with your child, they’ll feel loved and accepted.
  • Setting of limits: Establishing clear rules will help your child feel safe and secure.
  • Sensitivity: By respecting your child’s ideas, feelings, and desires, you’ll help them make choices and set goals. This is called supporting their sense of self-determination.

“Kids need these three essential ingredients,” says Mireille Joussemet, a psychologist, researcher, and professor at Université de Montréal. Of the four main styles, authoritative parenting strikes the best balance between being nurturing, firm, and supportive of self-determination, making it the preferred choice.

Marielle M’Bangha, mother of 6-year-old Samuel and 3-month-old Piernelle, has adopted the authoritative model. “I teach my children self-respect. I encourage them to talk about their feelings and preferences, set limits, and assert themselves. I want them to have confidence in themselves.”

Samatar Abdillahi and Christophe Furstoss also try to listen to their 3-year-old daughter, Sarah, and let her question things. But that doesn’t mean she can do whatever she wants. In authoritative families, there are rules. “For example, our daughter sometimes wants to eat dinner at the small coffee table in the living room. But for us, eating together at the dining room table is non-negotiable,” says Samatar.

Conversely, authoritarian parents are very firm, but show little warmth or support for self-determination. “They love their child, of course, but they value obedience,” says psychologist Nathalie Parent. “They tend to enforce punishments without offering an explanation.” Often, their demands are too high for their child’s stage of development. Permissive parents seek out their child’s affection and are very nurturing, but have difficulty setting boundaries. They tend to act more like a friend than a parent.

Uninvolved parents offer few or none of the three main elements that children need. If a parent had a difficult childhood, they may have a harder time engaging with their own children. In this case, they must learn to give what they never received. Parents may also be uninvolved due to mental health or addiction issues, or a busy work life.

Mix of styles

Even though there are clear definitions for these four parenting styles, reality is more nuanced. For instance, there are also overprotective parents and perfectionist parents. With your kids, you might adopt a mix of different styles. In real life, most parents have a combined approach; they have one predominant style and several secondary ones.

For example, Hugo Sierra, father of 3-year-old Eduardo, tends to be overprotective, but he’s also permissive from time to time—and even authoritarian. “Hugo has a hard time enforcing routine,” says his partner, Bibiana Pulido. “So, Eduardo pushes back until his father gets angry and becomes more authoritarian.”

For authoritative parents, discipline is a way to help their child make amends or learn from their mistakes.

Christophe and Samatar tend to be authoritative, but will occasionally tip toward permissive. For example, the dads will buy their daughter candy whenever they go shopping with her. “We’d like to break that habit,” says Christophe. “But we’re taking the easy road to avoid a tantrum.”

It’s normal for parents to be strict about some things, but more permissive about others. “Your parenting style may also vary from day to day,” Joussemet adds. “You may be authoritative most of the time, but less patient and more controlling when you’re tired, for example.”

According to Joussemet, the important thing is to strike a balance between being nurturing, firm, and respectful. “Your child needs a good parent, not a perfect parent,” she says.

How to be an authoritative parent

You can adapt your approach to a more authoritative style for the benefit of your child.

According to psychology research, the most beneficial style of parenting is the authoritative approach. Among other things, authoritative parenting promotes social skills, self-esteem, and emotional management.

Kids raised by authoritative parents seem to have an easier time making friends while being less likely to have anxiety or behavioural problems, such as opposition or aggression.

By contrast, the other main parenting models are believed to have negative consequences. For example, children with permissive parents may struggle with anxiety because they’ve never been given boundaries. Since they’re used to doing whatever they please, “they often have trouble following the rules at daycare and at school,” says Nathalie Parent.

Meanwhile, kids with overly authoritarian parents may lack self-esteem and consider themselves unimportant, as their thoughts and feelings largely go unacknowledged. “They may have a strained relationship with their parents and become rebellious in their teens,” Parent adds.

It’s important not to feel guilty if you’re a permissive or authoritarian parent. You can adapt your approach to a more authoritative style for the benefit of your child. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Give your child positive attention. You can do this in many ways, including by praising good behaviour and effort, showing interest when your little one tells you about daycare, or inviting them to give you a hand in the kitchen.
  • Make time to play with your child every day. “This will help reinforce the parent-child bond and create a positive relationship,” says Parent. “Playtime lets your little one know you care about them.”
  • Explain rules and boundaries. Your child will be more cooperative if they know the reason behind a given rule or boundary. “To help my son understand why he has to brush his teeth, I told him about cavities,” says Bibiana, Eduardo’s mother. “Since then, it hasn’t been an issue!” By giving your child an explanation, you’re helping them see things from your perspective. “They’re more willing to follow the rule now that it serves a purpose, even if there’s no fun in it,” explains psychology professor Mireille Joussemet.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings and point of view. Just because your child understands why a rule exists doesn’t mean they’re going to be happy about it! Always be considerate of their feelings, even when they’re hard to comprehend. For example, when it’s time to get ready for bed, you could say, “I know you want to keep playing—putting toys away is boring.” If your child feels understood, they’ll be less inclined to dig in their heels.
  • Enforce the rules consistently. That way, your child will know what to expect. It’s also essential not to undermine your partner. “If my daughter doesn’t like something, she’ll often go to her other dad to complain,” says Christophe, Sarah’s father. “He doesn’t give in and change the rule, but he always listens to what she has to say. It makes her feel better.”
  • Allow your child to make some decisions. Your child needs to feel in control of their actions and have opportunities to make small decisions. “At mealtime, I ask my son to try everything, but I don’t force him to eat foods he doesn’t like,” says Marielle, Samuel’s mother. For her part, Bibiana encourages her son when he shows initiative, like the time he decided to set up a video call with his grandmother to give her a tour of their house. Sarah’s dads let their daughter choose her outfits. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t match—they just have to be appropriate for the season,” says Samatar. Offering choices is also a good strategy for getting kids to cooperate (e.g., “Do you want to put your toys away before or after bath time?”).
  • Keep your expectations in line with your child’s age and abilities. If your child is under too much pressure, they may get discouraged, develop anxiety, and start to believe they aren’t good enough. Maintaining realistic expectations will ensure they get to experience success and boost their self-confidence.
Not everything can be explained by parenting style
Your child’s behaviour and well-being don’t depend solely on your parenting approach. Their temperament, environment, and perception of how you treat them also play a role. Your style of parenting, in turn, can be influenced by your child’s personality. For example, parents with particularly difficult or aggressive children may become more authoritarian or, conversely, eventually give up trying to set boundaries altogether.

Parents with different parenting styles

If you and your partner have different parenting styles, how will this affect your child? What about your relationship? Is it better to have a similar approach to child-rearing?

If you and your partner have different parenting styles, how will this affect your child? What about your relationship? Is it better to have a similar approach to child-rearing?

No two parents are exactly alike, and that’s perfectly normal. “Differences can be complementary and allow each partner to be more self-reflective,” says psychologist Nathalie Parent. “Plus, exposing your child to different parenting styles can teach them to be adaptable and help them develop social skills.”

However, significant differences can cause problems. For example, if one parent is very permissive but the other is extremely authoritarian, their child may suffer from a lack of consistency and stability. They may feel stressed or anxious, or develop disruptive behaviours. “The child may also grow closer to one parent and push away the other,” says Parent.

Big disagreements about parenting can lead to conflicts within the couple and create a rift. “When frustrations build up, they can take a toll on the relationship,” says Parent.

Talk, don’t argue

What’s the best way to deal with a parenting conflict? “You should talk about it with your partner, but not in front of your child, as they may get upset or confused,” says Parent. She recommends that couples address their disagreements as they arise while remaining open to each other’s points of view.

The idea is not to prove that you’re right, but to figure out how to work together as parents to ensure your child’s well-being. For instance, you could share stories about your own upbringings, talk about your values, and discuss your child’s needs. “Recognize that you and your partner are different people,” says Parent. “Point out the ways in which each of you is a good parent, and then find compromises you can both make to support one another.”

Things to keep in mind
  • For your child’s healthy development, strike a balance between being nurturing, firm, and respectful of their feelings and thoughts.
  • Authoritative parenting is the most beneficial for your child.
  • If you and your partner have very different parenting styles, try to find a happy middle ground.


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, July–August 2021
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Geneviève A. Mageau, full professor, Department of Psychology, Université de Montréal



Books for parents

  • Faber, Adele, and Elaine Mazlich. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Scribner, 2012, 384 pp.
  • Deslauriers, Stéphanie. Le bonheur d’être un parent imparfait. Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur, 2017, 160 pp.


Photos (in order): Maxim Morin, GettyImages/Liderina, Maxim Morin, GettyImages/Seventyfour