Most research supports Authoritative Parenting as the ‘ideal’ parenting style… but cutting-edge studies tell us there is something better. But first, let’s look take a look at the four most common parenting styles. What I mean by parenting style is the consistent decisions parents make in their interactions with their children. It’s how we parent.
The 4 Most Common Parenting Styles
Some people are low on love and warmth towards their children, and they’re also low on limits and boundaries. In other words, they don’t show much interest in what their children do, and they don’t show much evidence that they really care about their children. These parents are known as ‘neglectful’.
Children raised in neglectful environments typically struggle because basic relationship needs are unmet. They do poorly in school and with friends. And they typically lack self-regulation, meaning they make poor choices around alcohol and other drugs, treating others well, and keeping the law.
There are some parents who are ultra-loving and super-warm, but they’re so concerned with kindness they regularly choose to forego limits and boundaries. The kids get away with anything and everything. These parents are known as ‘permissive’. Other names for this parenting style include ‘laissez faire’ or indulgent’. They’re slightly different things, but they (quite wrongly) all get lumped in together.
Some research shows that indulged children may behave in entitled, spoiled ways. And because of their heavy reliance on others to meet their needs, they may struggle with resilience. They can also be resistant to limits because they are not used to having them imposed.
Authoritarian parents are strict and are often lacking in warmth, especially when enforcing limits. Their way of being towards their children can be “I’ll say it once. I expect you to do it. And if you don’t, I’ll come down hard on you. I’m not talking for the fun of it.”
Many parents swing between permissive and authoritarian. They give and give and give. They’re kind and permissive, and they let the children keep getting away with more and more and more until they can’t take it anymore. Then they lose it. They blow up and things get totally out of control.
Kids who grow up with hardline parents will often be rebellious – so long as no one is looking. And families can be fractured because of the cold, harsh way their parents respond.
In her original concept of authoritative parenting, Diana Baumrind – the researcher credited with developing the parenting styles model – suggested that authoritative parents ought to rely heavily on their power to coerce their children to comply with limits. And that they should just do it warmly, where possible. The idea here is that we clearly show we are the parent, and we have firm, strict rules. We just need to stay warm and “kind” while we’re putting our kids in time out or removing privileges from them for doing something we don’t like.
So if none of these parenting styles are ideal, what’s the alternative? It has a clunky name – autonomy supportive parenting – but it works. Powerfully. And the great thing is that it is something that doesn’t require us to be Captain Cranky. We don’t have to rule by fear and power.
Autonomy Supportive Parenting Style
This kind of parenting gets us away from punishments and rewards. As author, Alfie Kohn, describes, it takes away from “doing things to” our children, and focuses us on “working with” our children.
It works like this:
- We give children a clear reason (or rationale) for behavioural requests
- We recognise the feelings and perspective of the child
- We offer choices and encourage initiative and problem solving
- We minimise the use of controlling techniques
This parenting style NOT a soft way to parent. It requires openness, flexibility, and a strong positive relationship. It demands that we know what we are asking of our children and why. And it means we have the humility to recognise we don’t know everything.
The third principle, problem solving, is the powerful part of the process. It is where we invite our kids to come up with limits and we guide them accordingly. This is how they internalise and “buy-into” the rules – because they’re making them up with us, rather than having us demand it of them.
Studies show that when we get this right, we build our relationship and we strengthen our children’s ability to make great decisions. Our discipline problems are reduced. Our children do better at school. They’re less likely to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. They choose better friends. They live better lives.
By letting go of power and by developing our children’s ability to make good decisions for themselves, we make better kids, and happier families.
Find more about parenting styles and Autonomy Supportive Parenting in Chapter 2 of my bestselling book 21 Days to a Happier Family