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What Sort of a Parent Are You?

Controversy Corner Spring 2013

By Helen Andrews

Mother and Child So you think it is time to tidy up and your toddler disagrees – how do you handle it? Researchers have attempted to classify our responses and have come up with three different styles of parenting.

What are the different parenting styles?

According to psychologist Diana Baumrind (see insert), parents are either authoritarian, permissive or authoritative when interacting with their children.

What are the main differences?

Put simply, authoritarian parents aim to keep their children under strict control via rigid rules. Rules are typically enforced via threat and the use of punishments. Permissive parents allow their children to largely do what they want and do not exert significant influence or have expectations of compliance. The relationship often feels more like a friendship. Reasoning, manipulation and bribes are used to achieve some level of control. Finally, authoritative parents aim to shape their child’s behaviours in definite ways and have high expectations but use a firm but fair approach. There is room for negotiation and discussion but only up to a point.

It sounds like authoritative is the desired style?

Baumrind certainly thought so, as do most people today. Authoritative parents are accepting of their child’s current behaviour and outlook but hold clear views about how they want to shape them to their own ideals. They use reasoning and reinforcement to support the child’s development but also have clear boundaries and assertively manage situations, where necessary.

What are the advantages?

The caring and warm manner of authoritative parents, along with the use of praise and perhaps rewards, teaches the child that behaving and fitting in feels good. They are able to emotionally regulate themselves and develop good social skills. Research suggests they do well in school, are self-confident and goal oriented.

Is authoritarian parenting really so bad?

Authoritarian parents tend to see the world in black and white, good and bad. Unquestioning compliance and control are key. Children learn to conform out of fear. As an upside, they usually do relatively well in school and are less likely to misuse substances or get in trouble with the police. However, they are not as socially skilled as they might be and can find it hard to handle frustration. Girls tend to give up in the face of challenges and boys tend to react with aggressiveness. They are also more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety and low mood.

Are there any advantages to permissive parenting?

Tantrum girl
Permissive parenting is sometimes seen as the cause of all of today’s problems! Permissive parents believe in the autonomy of the individual and respond positively to all of their child’s desires. They tend to avoid confrontation and the overt use of power and discipline to shape and regulate behaviour as it is seen as restrictive of a child’s natural development. The children are often good conversationalists with adults (their equals), have high social skills and self-esteem and low levels of depression. However, they can have difficulties with anxiety due to the absence of limit setting which children need to feel safe and secure. They can also become bossy and dominating in an attempt to find where the limits are.

So is it really that clear cut? Is authoritative parenting the way to go?

Probably. Most parents want children who feel valued and listened to, who feel safe and secure, who know what is expected of them and fit in well with society, feeling good about themselves. Authoritative parenting is the most likely to achieve this. However, it is now acknowledged that these three categories are quite restrictive. There are times when a more authoritarian or permissive approach is the right approach for that child in that situation. The ideal is to aim to have a largely authoritative style, whilst acknowledging that there are times to get tough and times to just let it go.

How to be an Authoritative Parent

1) Be curious about your child – try first to understand why they are behaving in a certain way to determine whether you should let the child continue, to learn and problem solve for themselves, or whether a guiding hand is needed.
2) Set clear boundaries and say no when necessary so your child feels secure in the knowledge that there is someone watching out for them who will keep them safe.
3) Gently help your child to calm when they are overwrought – children often struggle to handle powerful feelings
4) Recognise your child as an individual who will find some things easier than others, and help them them to develop and achieve their potential.
5) Allow your child to express themselves and find their own place in the world, but guide them towards what you value most.

Studying Parenting in the 1960s

The 3 parenting styles described are the result of research carried out in the early 1960s by a developmental psychologist called Diana Baumrind. She and her team observed and interviewed 100 middle class families with pre-school children.
Baumrind focused on two aspects of parenting: parental responsiveness and parental demandingness. She placed parents on each of these on a continuum from high to low. Responsiveness described the degree to which parents made efforts to understand and respond to the specific needs of their child. Demandingness described the level of control parents asserted over their child.
Parents deemed to be highly responsive and highly demanding were classified as authoritative.
Those who were highly responsive and low on demandingness were seen as permissive.
Finally, those parents who were observed to be highly demanding but low on responsiveness were labelled as authoritarian.
Baumrind clearly favoured authoritative parenting.
In the 1980s, Maccoby and Martin added a fourth parenting style. They realised that parents could be low on responsiveness and low on demandingness and they classified these parents as neglectful.
Baumrind’s research is still influential today although the complexities of parenting have been explored further.

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More Information about Family Matters

Dr Helen Andrews is a Clinical Psychologist with over 15 years of experience working with children and young people.

Through her business, Family Matters in Warwickshire, she helps parents when they can see that their child is struggling with their emotions, behaviour or development. She focuses on early intervention as the evidence is clear that it is never too early to ask for help.

Family Matters supports prospective parents through the final stages of pregnancy, new parents struggling with the challenges of infancy and toddlerhood and more experienced parents too.

You can contact Helen on 01564 795337 and you can find out more at

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