What Kind of Parent are You? Parenting Styles and Child Outcomes

There are four different parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent, and neglectful. Each parenting styles is characterized by its unique combination of demandingness and responsiveness.

Parenting styles are characterized by levels of parental demandingness and responsiveness.

Demandingness refers to the level of control you attempt to have over your child’s behaviour, or the level of expectations your have of your child. If you rarely attempt to control your child’s behaviour and do not expect much in terms of maturity, contribution to household chores, participation in activities, etc., you are likely low on levels of demandingness.

If, on the other hand, you often monitor and attempt to control your child’s behaviour, or have high expectations of their level of maturity, contribution to the household, and their participation in education, events, activities, or community, you are high on levels of demandingness. Of course, levels of demandingness are a continuum, not two polar opposites, however, for the purposes of characterizing parenting styles, we generally choose the best fit. Same goes for responsiveness.

Responsiveness refers to your level of acceptance and social, emotional, or developmental sensitivity you have in your relationship with your child. If you are open and accepting of your child’s wishes and desires, and are knowledgeable, understanding, and responsive to their needs, then you are likely have high levels of responsiveness within your relationship. If, however, you tend to be critical of your child, or are unaware or unresponsive to your child’s wishes and desires, you likely have low levels of responsiveness.

The Four Basic Parenting Styles

The chart below shows the four parenting styles, by level of demandingness and responsiveness. Where does your parenting style fit on this chart?

Parenting styles are not fixed. However, while the particular strategies you use or the way you go about applying that particular parenting style will no doubt change as your child gets older, the underlying parenting style that you use to parent your child now and in five or ten years from now will probably be fairly stable over time.

Parenting styles can even continue across generations of parents due to both genetic and environmental factors. If you had an authoritative parent, for example, you may tend to be a more authoritative parent yourself. On the other hand, you may have chosen to make a conscious effort to take a significantly different approach to parenting than your own parents did.

Regardless of where you or your parents fit in terms of parenting style, making a conscious effort to gain new understanding, knowledge, and applications of effective parenting practices can shift your parenting style over time.

Decades of research overwhelmingly connect particular parenting styles with corresponding child outcomes. It’s important to be honest with yourself about your levels of demandingness and responsiveness so that you can be open to acknowledging the things you are doing well within your relationship with your child and owning the things that you can change in order to improve your relationship with your child. Let’s take a closer look at each different parenting style, and how it may impact your child’s outcome.

Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parenting is characterized by high levels of both demandingness and responsiveness. If you have high expectations for your child, demand some level of control or influence over your child’s behaviour, and do so in a way that is based on the social, emotional, and developmental needs of your child, you are likely parenting in an authoritative style.

Authoritative parenting is characterized by high levels of warmth and responsiveness, clear rules, high expectations for meeting certain demands, genuine support, and allows for the child’s independence.

Authoritative parents do not impose their own wishes or demands upon a child through the use of physical force, manipulation, or punishment. Rather, authoritative parents tend to rely on teaching skills, explaining rules, and confidently and consistently following through on unmet expectations with natural consequences or collaborative problem-solving approaches.

Authoritative parenting practices are consistently linked with more highly adjusted children over the long term. Although managing challenging behaviours using this approach may take a lot longer than a quick swat to the butt, or may demand more time and effort initially than just letting “the phase” pass, it will be met in the end with much better childhood, adolescent, and adult outcomes.

Research shows, time after time, that children who are parented in an authoritative manner are much happier, more independent, have higher academic achievement, more positive self-esteem, better social skills, less depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation or tendencies, delinquency, violence, and substance abuse in later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood than are children parented with all other parenting styles.

Authoritarian Parenting

Although the name sounds much like authoritative parenting, there are significant differences. While authoritative parenting is characterized by high levels of both demandingness and responsiveness, authoritarian parenting is associated with high levels of demandingness, but low levels of responsiveness.

That is, although your expectations and behavioural control remain high, your awareness of or ability to respond to your child in ways that are sensitive to and consistent with their level of development, and their own unique social and emotional needs, is lacking.

Authoritarian parenting is often characterized by coldness and lack of acceptance of the child’s needs, wishes, or demands, strict and rigid rules, high expectations for meeting demands, and come with the belief in the importance of blind obedience to those rules and demands.

Authoritarian parents often perceive a child’s lack of obedience or following through with rules and expectations as unacceptable, and may enforce rules through the use of lecturing, shaming, yelling, spanking, punishing, threatening, or – in more extremes – through forms of social, emotional, or physical abuse.

Although commonplace sayings such as “spare the rod, spoil the child” or “I was spanked, and I turned out just fine” tend to be the norm in our culture, authoritarian parenting – while demanding compliance in the short-term – is actually linked with lower mental health and less adjusted kids, teens, and adults over time. Fear-based and shame-based parenting practices serve only to meet a parents demands, and discourage the child from having a voice.

Research consistently shows that children raised in homes where authoritarian parenting prevails are more unhappy, less independent, more insecure, have lower self-esteem, more behaviour problems, lower academic performance, poorer social skills, and higher rates of mental health problems, delinquency, and substance abuse.

Indulgent Parenting

Indulgent parenting is characterized by high levels of warmth and responsiveness to the child, but low levels of behaviour control and expectations or demands.

If you have more tendencies toward indulgent parenting, you are likely very warm and caring toward your child, and understand your child’s need for independence. You allow for your child to exert his or her wishes and demands at levels congruent with your child’s developmental level, but you either don’t have many rules or expectations for your child, or oftentimes lack follow through when your child does not meet particular demands or expectations.

Indulgent parenting is often characterized by high levels of positive regard and sensitivity, but few to no rules, lenient follow through on expectations, and indulgent levels of supportiveness in which children may get what they want, when they want it, regardless of how they go about it – even if it means infringing on the rights of others.

Indulgent parenting also leads to children to become less well-adjusted, which, unless corrected, follows them into adolescence and adulthood. Although the level of warmth and sensitive responding within this parenting style are admirable, the lack of rules or expectations can lead children to have difficulty understanding other peoples’ perspectives and delaying gratification, making other environments such as school, community, and work later on to become highly challenging and difficult to navigate successfully.

Children who are raised with indulgent parenting struggle to follow the rules and expectations in places outside of the home, have significant difficulty with self-control, can become egocentric, and have a great deal of difficulties in peer and later work and romantic relationships and social interactions.

Neglectful Parenting

Neglectful parenting is in the opposite quadrant of authoritative parenting, and is marked by low levels of both demandingness and responsiveness. Parental mental health and addiction issues, or their own history of neglect or abuse are oftentimes underlying their own neglectful parenting styles.

If you have a neglectful parenting style, you may lack boundaries, expectations, or rules for your child, and you are likely unaware or indifferent to your child’s developmental needs, demands, and desires. You are generally uninvolved in – or at the very least, lack awareness of – your child’s interests, and their world in general. In the extreme, parents with neglectful parenting styles are unable to unwilling to meet their child’s physical or safety needs.

Parents who have a more neglectful parenting style tend to be cold and unresponsive to their child, have no rules, and are indifferent to their child’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. While these parents aren’t harsh or punitive, they are also not engaged or supportive.

Indulgent parenting often requires the child to parent themselves. This can lead to the child becoming parentified – taking on the roles parents would typically take on within the parent-child relationship. These children learn that in order to get something done, they have to do it themselves. On the other hand, other children may become overly helpless, and become overly attached to other adult figures, or completely detached and untrusting of the world around them.

Children who are raised with neglectful parenting styles tend to be impulsive, lack self-regulation skills, and have higher levels of delinquency, addiction, and suicidal behaviours in childhood, adolescence, and later adulthood.

Let’s be clear – nobody is a perfect parent. At times and with changes in life events or circumstances, our parenting styles can shift slightly or even significantly. Being open and honest with yourself to learn about and become aware of your own parenting practices and the underlying parenting style in which they fall into is important. This helps you to examine your own goals and values as a parent, to acknowledge the incredible strengths that you have as a parent and capitalize on those, while also focusing on developing those areas of your own parenting practices that are really a challenge for you.

Whichever category you fall into, and whatever your ultimate parenting goals, focus on setting small goals and making small improvements each day or each week or each month or maybe even each year. Every small action you take to enhancing the balance between demanding expectations and showing warmth and responsiveness in your relationship with your child, will allow you to improve your parent-child relationship and enhance your child’s ultimate outcome through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Don’t give up – it’s never to late to make the changes you desire in your relationship with your child. You both deserve it.

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