The Most Common Parenting Styles: A Complete Guide For Every Parent

This Guide To The Most Common Parenting Styles Might Help You Figure Out Yours

March 24, 2020 Updated April 20, 2021

parenting styles
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We all have an idea of what kind of parent we’ll be. Some work hard to pick up positive habits from their parents as they think back to their own childhood, while others want nothing to do with that. And if you’re co-parenting with a partner or a spouse, things get even more complicated as you realize they bring their own ideas of what “good” parenting should look like. First of all, aside from extreme cases of neglect or harm, there’s positives in each parenting style. And, as your child grows, you may find your style changes with them. So if you’re wrecking your brain trying to figure out how to be a better parent, know that the most important thing is to find the method and approach that works for your child and family. (And definitely don’t try to be a Pinterest Mom, she’s a mythological figure.)

While there are infinite ways to parent, psychologists have compartmentalized the most common into different approaches. With the most commonly referenced parenting styles — authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, uninvolved, helicopter, free-range, attachment, and positive, among others — serving as our guide, Scary Mommy spoke with family and child psychologists and other experts who could shed light on what these styles look like in action. They also explain what real-life effect they have on children now and as they age, as well as other frequently asked questions parents might have. Yes, we’ve even covered what to do if you find you or your partner differ in your approach and how to find a happy medium that works for your family.

Ahead, parents will find brief descriptions and links to Scary Mommy’s comprehensive explainers for each style that will, hopefully, arm you with more information as you discover your own parenting method.

Authoritarian Parenting

What is authoritarian parenting?

Even if your own parents were not authoritarian, you have certainly seen them in action. Think back to your childhood, nearly every Disney movie with a “bad” parent who set arbitrary rules and followed a “because I said so” modus operandi was one. These parents usually espouse the “tough love” school of parenting, except it’s more tough than love. Authoritarian parents expect children to follow their rules blindly, without independent thought or questioning. And kids making their own decisions? Forget about it.

What does authoritarian parenting look like in action?

An authoritarian parent’s expectation from their kids is: obedience, obedience, obedience. They make demands of their kids without explaining the reasoning behind them and aren’t open to children pushing back.

What effect does authoritarian parenting have on kids?

Scary Mommy spoke with experts who explained the long-term effect of authoritarian parenting can lead to an association between love and obedience for the child. They may grow up believing they will be loved only if they are obedient, something that can follow them into adulthood.

As adults, children of authoritarian parents may have a harder time making their own choices and decisions, and may even end up in unhealthy relationships where they are being controlled.

Authoritative Parenting

What is authoritative parenting?

If there was such a thing as a “good” parenting style, according to experts, authoritative parenting would take the cake. A perfect mixture of firm but fair, these parents set clear boundaries and rules, have reasonable expectations for their kids, and encourage open and two-way communication. They’re positive in their discipline and spend quality time nurturing and bonding with their children.  Authoritative parents are dependable, they’re great in times of crisis, and they encourage and support their children in meeting expectations.

What does authoritative parenting look like in action?

Authoritative parents instill good habits from the get-go, explaining actions and consequences to toddlers in a constructive manner, holding them accountable for their actions, and doing it all with love and care. They don’t express their frustration in a negative manner in front of their child, instead approaching their disciplining calmly.

What effect does authoritative parenting have on kids?

According to experts, children of authoritative parents who had that kind of firm yet nurturing upbringing as children are more independent, cooperative, happy, and achievement-oriented.

What if you realize you’re an authoritative parent?

Uh, pat yourself on the back? No seriously, experts agree this is the most balanced approach to parenting. So if you find you’re having moments of indulgence or authoritarianism, give yourself a break.

Permissive Parenting

What is permissive parenting?

Permissive parents, or indulgent parents as they’re often described, are often the butt of many a joke in pop culture. Amy Poehler’s “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom” character from Mean Girls is a perfect example. And while that is an obvious caricature, permissive parents are usually very lax as they try to be both parent and friend. Of course this doesn’t mean they’re not loving or warm. Quite the opposite.

Indulgent parents value bonding and attachment over rules and boundaries and they hesitate disciplining their children for fear of disappointing them. They value their child’s feelings above all, and often let them act younger than their age. Basically: happy child, happy life.

What does permissive parenting look like in action?

What does all this lawlessness look like in real life? Permissive parents let the child steer the direction they want to go in, so a preschooler might still drink out of a bottle, have no controls on screen time or food, and the parent never seems to say no. With limited rules, responsibilities, and  consequences, permissive parents give their children more power over decisions that they are not equipped to make.

What effect does permissive parenting have on kids?

According to experts and research, children of indulgent parents have difficulty regulating their emotions, have social challenges, and have a much harder time following rules and boundaries in the real world. Parents also face consequences, as they often feel trapped, powerless, and maybe even resentful of their overall parenting experience.

What if you realize you’re a permissive parent?

Do you find yourself giving in to your child’s demands or using bribery to get the kids to behave? If so, take a deep breath Mama, and give yourself some grace. Permissive parents do a world of good for their children by nurturing and giving them a warm and loving environment to thrive. Also, every parent uses permissive tactics at times, so don’t think you’re alone in this. However, if you’re using this method more often than not and want to scale back, reach out to a family therapist to understand why you tend to resort to permissive parenting and they’ll help you find ways to change your approach with your kids.

Uninvolved Parenting

What is uninvolved parenting?

Much like permissive parents, uninvolved parents make no demands on their children. But unlike permissive parents, it’s because they don’t care and are checked out of parenting completely. Uninvolved parents are not interested in their kid’s schooling, and their emotional and physical needs are often not met.

What does uninvolved parenting look like in action?

Uninvolved parents are not a one-size-fits-all paradigm so unfortunately they come in all shapes and sizes. This type of parent might provide necessities like food, shelter, and clothing, but they don’t see a need to invest in the emotional well-being of their child. Another might might completely cut off from their child, not help with their homework, extracurricular events, and they may not set rules or engage in discipline because they just don’t care. The emotional distance they put between themselves and the child leaves the child with little to no guidance or basic nurture.

What effect does uninvolved parenting have on kids?

Children of uninvolved parents struggle in a classroom or any structured setting, have a hard time concentrating, and are not used to rules and regulations. Other possible effects on the child include, but are not limited to, depression, low self-esteem, anger and hostility, impulsivity, self-isolation, trouble regulating emotion, and difficulty forming lasting bonds. As children of uninvolved parents enter adulthood, they might face more serious mental health issues or other destructive behavior.

Helicopter Parenting

What is helicopter parenting?

Helicopter parents have gotten a pretty bad rap in the media, with the term becoming some sort of negative catch-all phrase. But helicopter parents — called that because they seemingly “hover” over their children — are parents who pay extra attention to their children’s behavior and experiences to ensure safety and well being. According to experts, this only becomes an issue when the parents do so beyond what is age-appropriate for the child, without gradually instilling more freedom and responsibility in their kid.

What does helicopter parenting look like in action?

If you’re sitting there thinking of all the times you may have “hovered” over your child, you should know that the key words here are “age-appropriate”. Reaching out to your elementary school-aged kid’s teacher because of a conflict: appropriate. Reaching out to your child’s college professor over a conflict: Not appropriate.

Some parents might go even further and read their child’s diary, constantly check their grades, keep them from seeing their friends outside of school, not allowing a teen to stay home alone for short periods, and constantly monitoring their child’s behavior.

What effect does helicopter parenting have on kids?

Studies have shown that children of helicopter parents grow up to have lower levels of confidence, lower ability to cope with stressors in life, and higher levels of anxiety and depression. They might be nervous to make decisions and may continually seek guidance from others.

Positive Parenting

What is positive parenting?

Positive parenting focuses on the happiness, resilience, and positive development of children. And the crux of this style and the thinking behind it is to establish a positive relationship between parents and children that involves caring, teaching, leading, communicating, all while providing for the needs of a child consistently and unconditionally.

What does positive parenting look like in action?

According to Positive Psychology, this type of parenting is exemplified by the following behavior:

  • Supporting exploration and involvement in decision-making
  • Paying attention and responding to a child’s needs
  • Using effective communication
  • Attending to a child’s emotional expression and control
  • Rewarding and encouraging positive behaviors
  • Providing clear rules and expectations
  • Applying consistent consequences for behaviors
  • Providing adequate supervision and monitoring
  • Acting as a positive role model
  • Making positive family experiences a priority

What effect does positive parenting have on kids?

Communicating with your child in a productive way leads to a myriad positive effects on the child in their youth and as they get older and enter the world. Some of them are:

Better school adjustment among children
Increased motivation among infants
Higher internalization among toddlers
Better psychosocial functioning among adolescents
Reduced depressive symptoms among adolescents
Increased self-esteem among adolescents
Increased optimism among children
Increased social self-efficacy among adolescents
Multiple positive outcomes among children, such as secure parental attachments, and better cognitive and social development
Improved attachment security among toddlers
Improved school adjustment among children
Increased cognitive and social outcomes among preschoolers
Reduced behavior problems among children
Lower dysfunctional parenting styles
Higher sense of parenting competence
Decreased family conflict and stress
Increased emotion regulation associated with various positive outcomes among children and adolescents
Increased compliance and self-regulation among children
Increased resilience among children and adolescents
Increased social skills among adolescents
Improved ability to resist negative peer influences among adolescents

Free-Range Parenting

What is free-range parenting?

First dubbed as such by writer Lenore Skenazy, the free-range parenting style encourages a child’s independence while exercising their decision-making skills with some parental supervision.

What does free-range parenting look like in action?

Free-range parenting can look different depending on the child, age, and comfort level of the parent. For Skenazy, it meant having her child take the New York City subway on his own at age nine. For others it may mean having children arrange playdates instead of the parents.

What effect does free-range parenting have on kids?

According to some parenting experts, free-range parenting makes children more resourceful and better at problem-solving, but ultimately, it’s up to parents to decide what level of freedom they feel comfortable giving their children.

Attachment Parenting

What is attachment parenting?

The fundamental idea behind attachment parenting is that parents should respond sensitively to the needs of babies and children. You may think to yourself, “well, don’t most good parents already do this?” And while you may be right, there are some common ideas behind attachment parenting that not all parents practice.

What does attachment parenting look like in action?

So what does attachment parenting look like in a parent and child’s daily life? Here are just some examples:

Co-sleeping: the child or children sleep either in the same room as parents or (with appropriate safety precautions) in the same bed.

Feeding on demand: parents who espouse attachment parenting allow the child to set the timing of feeding along with self-weaning.

Holding and touching: keeping the child physically near, whether through cuddling and cradling, or by wearing on a front- or backpack arrangement.

Responsiveness to crying: not letting the child “cry it out,” but instead intervening early to stop or avoid crying all together.

What effect does attachment parenting have on kids?

According to the founders of this philosophy, here are many benefits to attachment parenting that include, but are not limited to, the following:

The baby is more trusting, feels more competent, learns language more easily, learns intimacy, and learns to give and receive love. Meanwhile, the parents are more confident, sensitive, and respond intuitively to their child’s needs.

Some drawbacks may be that parents are prone to self-judgement in that they feel they’re not doing enough or parenting well enough. Parents also tend to be anti-formula and sleep-training. But, it’s important to remember that parenting is a very personal choice, and what works for some doesn’t work for others, and vice versa. The most important is the health, safety, and happiness of the child.

Insightful Quotes on Each Parenting Style

Authoritative Parenting

“They [the parents] monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative” — Diana Baumrind

Authoritarian Parenting

“When we make children obey by force, threats, or punishment, we make them feel helpless. They can’t stand feeling helpless, so they provoke another confrontation to prove they still have some power.’ And where do they learn how to use that power? From us. Not only does authoritarian parenting make them mad; it also teaches them how to direct their anger against another person.” — Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting

Uninvolved Parenting

“Emotional Neglect was automatically passed down from your parents. There are answers, and it’s never too late to change your way of parenting. It is never too late to begin emotionally validating your children. Now read on, no guilt allowed…. Emotionally neglectful parents may be loving and well-intentioned but they still, perhaps through no fault of their own, fail to notice your feelings and respond to them enough. And by failing you in this way, emotionally neglectful parents fail to teach you the emotion skills you will need for your lifetime.” — Jonice Webb, Ph.D

Permissive Parenting

“[Permissive parents] are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation.” — Diana Baumrind

Helicopter Parenting

“Helicopter parents. Before I started at Pirriwee Public, I thought it was an exaggeration, this thing about parents being overly involved with their kids. I mean, my mum and dad loved me, they were, like, interested in me when I was growing up in the nineties, but they weren’t, like, obsessed with me.”
― Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies