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.