Understanding Your Parenting Style and What It Means for Your Child

Updated on November 2, 2019
Emily Savage profile image

Emily has a background in psychology where she has studied parenting behaviours and hopes to empower others by sharing this information.

Every parent wants to provide the best possible future for their child. Many parents plan extensively for the birth of their children, but their plans are often primarily material in nature and include only basic knowledge of how to fulfill their roles as parents. Even more parents are thrust into their roles spontaneously with little if any preparation.

Whatever your situation, I'm sure you will agree that parenting is a rewarding journey, though not always an easy one. There are times when you face choices or situations that may be difficult or confusing. While there are no right or wrong answers, it is important for you to remember that your decisions have a profound effect on the development of your children.

While you may never become the mythical "perfect parent", being an informed parent can help you cope with many of your challenges and make the best possible choices for your children. Understanding your parenting style is a good place to start, and knowing how it affects the development of your children is even better.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What Is a Parenting Style and How Should I Evaluate It?

The approach that you take to raising and caring for your child can be called your parenting style. You probably have already considered the journey ahead of you and formed a set of ideas about how your relationship with your child should be, and these ideas will in turn influence the decisions that you make concerning events that occur during your child's development as well as how you treat your child in your day-to-day interactions. This includes such things as:

  • the communication style you find most appropriate to use with your child
  • your choice of disciplinary methods, if you choose to use any
  • what process you follow in the making of important decisions concerning your child
  • how you go about setting or enforcing rules and restrictions, if you choose to set or enforce any at all

There are four parenting styles that are generally recognised. These categories are, of course, not absolute and you may be able to identify with characteristics of more than one of these styles. The important thing to keep in mind is which category you feel that you predominantly belong to.

Characteristics of Different Parenting Styles

  • The Uninvolved Parent: This type of parent will only provide for the basic physical needs of their children. They usually take no further interest or actions in their children’s lives. These parents can be cold and emotionally unresponsive, rejecting or dismissive towards their children and often have little contact with their children. They also take little steps to control the behaviour of their children or provide parental guidance or supervision.
  • The Authoritarian Parent: This type of parenting style restricts the autonomy of children while placing emphasis on obedience to parents’ wishes. This obedience is often obtained through the setting of strict rules or intimidation and the use of force. Parents that use this style often do not invite input from their children in their disciplinary or decision making processes and their children are often discouraged from making any personal decisions on their own. Communication usually only occurs in one direction where the parent speaks and the child is expected to listen passively. These types of parents may also frequently criticise their children sometimes quite harshly.
  • The Permissive Parent: While this parenting style encourages children to become autonomous, children are often required to learn appropriate social behaviour without the support of guidelines set by their parents. Parents utilising this parenting style do not act as figures of authority, may not monitor their children’s behaviour and will often allow children to make their own decisions. Permissive parents are usually very open to their children in terms of communication and supportive of their decisions and ideas. Parents using this style do not use discipline as a form of coercion but may use reasoning or may expect children to simply learn naturally from the consequences of their own mistakes.
  • The Authoritative Parent: Authoritative parents encourage children to gradually develop their autonomy while still maintaining disciplinary control over their children. Children are given opportunities to make their own personal decisions where the parent feels it is appropriate and are prevented from doing this where the parent feels it is not. Authoritative parents do not use harsh and rigid disciplinary methods and are very open to communication with their children. They often involve children in their disciplinary process through discussions or reasoning and may sometimes offer a degree of compromise to meet the needs that their children have expressed.

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash
Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Which Parenting Style Do You Use?

It's important at this stage to really be honest with yourself in evaluating the approach to parenting that you most tend to enact. Don’t choose the one that you think “sounds” the best.

From the styles identified, you might surmise that the authoritative style is the "best" and may even feel that you agree with this approach to parenting—yet when it becomes time for you to approach your own child, you find it difficult to communicate with them and easier to simply issue instructions or function within a relationship where the rules and structure are clearly defined and rigid. Or maybe you feel a little uncomfortable telling your child “what to do” and want them to freely explore different experiences and to think you more like a friend than a parent.

Having a parenting style that does not seem ideal does not mean you are a bad parent or person. The parenting styles that we adopt are influenced by many things such as our relationships with our own parents and the parenting styles they adopted with us, our own personalities and the personalities of our children and the environment we believe that children need to develop healthily and mature.

Photo by Aswin on Unsplash
Photo by Aswin on Unsplash

What Does This Mean for Your Child?

Parenting styles are a good indication of how much warmth and control that your children are receiving from your relationship. These are two important elements that have a very strong influence on your child's development.

  • Parental warmth can be thought of as how much love and emotional support your child receives from you.
  • Control is centered primarily around such things as the creation of demands and restrictions on your child and how you enforce them.

Children need both emotional support as well as restrictions and guidelines. However, placing too many demands and restrictions on your child will result in negative developmental outcomes such as poor mental health, low self esteem and sometimes aggressive behaviour. On the other hand, if there are not enough rules or guidelines, this may result in delinquency, illicit drug use or promiscuity.

High parental warmth is an important factor that can mitigate even the negative effects of traumatic events such as childhood abuse or serious accidents, and its presence has been noted with children who perform well in school, are well adjusted and have good mental health in adulthood. It's probably not surprising then that low parental warmth is also associated with a host of negative developmental outcomes for children, everything from eating disorders to poor academic performance.

Warmth, Control and the 4 Parenting Styles

It's easy to see from the descriptions that some of the parenting styles mentioned are not quite in balance.

  • The uninvolved parenting style is low on warmth but also low on parental control making it easily the most unsuitable of all. This parenting style is usually observed in causes of parental abuse and neglect against children.
  • Authoritarian parenting is high on control but low on parental warmth. Though many authoritarian parents take their hard line approach because most of all, they want to protect their children from future harm it often causes psychological harm to the child by depriving them of the emotional support that they need and removing opportunities for them to explore an existence independent of the parent.
  • Permissive parenting is high on parental warmth but low on control. While this style results in well adjusted children for the most part, because children often operative without behavioural restrictions, it may result in the development of antisocial behaviours such as delinquency and drug use, especially in adolescence when peer groups begin to grow in influence and importance.
  • The authoritative parenting style is high on both warmth and on control making it a very effective parenting strategy capable of providing emotional support while protecting children from negative external influences through appropriate levels of discipline and control.

Photo by Sean Roy on Unsplash
Photo by Sean Roy on Unsplash

Finding the Right Balance That Works for You

The right balance of warmth and control will protect your child from negative developmental outcomes and help them to become a confident and well adjusted individual. However, no article can tell you how much of either to apply in your relationship with your child because the amount of control or warmth that's best for your child depends on them.

The best relationships between parents and children are ones that are responsive and involve lots of communication. Your children must be able to express their needs to you for you to know what they are and the relationship should be adjusted to accommodate both their needs and yours.

What makes the parent child relationship so difficult and unique is that your child's needs will change constantly as they develop, which means that your relationship will need to continuously be revised at every stage of their development in order to keep up with these changes. In general, though, parental control usually diminishes as the child develops; however, parental warmth should always remain high.

Final Thoughts

Your parenting style plays an important role in determining the type of relationship that you will have with your child, its characteristics and whether it will be predominantly a positive or negative experience for them and for you too. The important thing to realise is that this is a learning experience for both of you. Think about your actions carefully not critically. And of course, don't forget to enjoy it! As difficult as it may be sometimes parenting can still be a wonderful experience!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    © 2019 Emily Savage

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