4 Research-Backed Parenting Styles And How They Affect Your Kids

Every so often, a new parenting style makes the news: attachment parenting, helicopter parenting, free-range parenting. But in child psychology, based on the work of Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, experts point to four main parenting styles — neglectful, authoritarian, authoritative and permissive — that influence how children grow and interact.

“Without much deliberate thought, parenting styles are often a combination of learned instincts gleaned from a parent’s own experience, temperament and role models,” said Rachel Robertson, vice president of education at Bright Horizons. “That doesn’t mean a parent is stuck with whatever style comes most naturally to them, if it’s not ideal.”

She emphasized that parents can switch between styles depending on the situation—and by having awareness and intention, they can make thoughtful choices and create habits that will help them raise their children the way they want to.

“Simply being aware of effective parenting strategies can help a parent pause and act purposefully in a moment they might otherwise have acted instinctually or emotionally,” Robertson explained. “Parenting is an in-the-moment kind of activity, but it’s also really about the long game – parents are raising people who we all hope will grow to be contributing citizens, future leaders, lifelong learners and stewards of the future who they shall inherit.”

HuffPost spoke with Robertson and family therapist Kelly Oriard to break down the four parenting styles and how each approach affects children.


″[Neglectful] style is hands-off and uninvolved,” said Robertson. “This style can be intentional or unintentional, depending on the parent. Communication, interaction and involvement in activities is limited.”

To better understand neglectful parenting and the other three styles, it is important to consider emotional climate, which is basically the overall mood and perception of a family and the relationship dynamics within it.

“For children, emotional climate, especially a warm emotional climate, is your caregiver who wants to be involved in your interests, support you, encourage you and respond to your needs,” says Oriard, who is a co-founder of Slumberkins. an educational brand focused on emotional learning. “It could look like hanging out together to read their favorite story or supporting them after something didn’t quite go their way.”

In the neglectful parenting style, there is low emotional warmth, as this type of caregiver tends to have low levels of interaction with their child.

“When disciplining, these parents tend to choose harsher techniques and offer little or no explanation,” Oriard said. “This parent is like the boss you hardly see at work. You end up learning and figuring it out on the fly because direction and interaction is minimal. If you do make a mistake because of the low level of direction, your boss gets angry and takes it out on you in front of your peers and higher-ups.”

She noted that this type of boss won’t circle back with you or touch your feet, may fire you on the spot and make you feel anxious about future mistakes. A neglectful parent can leave behind similar negative feelings.

“Unfortunately, children who have neglectful-uninvolved parents tend to have numerous problems as they grow up,” Oriard said. “These children may have mental health problems related to depression and anxiety, they may have poor social skills and may even be prone to future substance abuse.”

Emotional climate is an important aspect of different parenting styles.

The Good Brigade via Getty Images

Emotional climate is an important aspect of different parenting styles.


“Authoritarian parents expect children to listen, follow directions and obey,” Robertson said. “This style is considered strict and disciplinary. There is a lack of flexibility and high expectation of compliance.”

Similar to the neglectful parenting style, authoritarian parenting involves low emotional warmth, but what sets it apart is a high level of demand and control—terms that refer to the extent to which parents attempt to control their child’s behavior and development.

“We all want our children to be accepted and loved and part of that is helping them navigate social norms,” ​​Oriard said. “When demandingness and control become problematic is when adults take an adult-centered approach and try to control their child for their benefit instead of for the betterment of the child.”

She noted that the authoritarian style’s combination of low emotional warmth and high demandingness can feel particularly strict and cold.

“Without the emotional support, these children can struggle socially and suffer from mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression,” Oriard explained. “This is due to the fact that high demands without a warm emotional climate can create an environment that is not only about behavioral control, but about psychological control. Psychological control is much stricter and uses shame and guilt to manipulate the child or force the child to do what the caregiver wants or expects of them.”

Under her office analogy above, this scenario is like having a boss who only cares about productivity and goals and is relentless about how they achieve those goals. This boss does not seem to care about the employee as a person and fosters a cold, harsh and restrictive environment.


“Authoritative parents set clear expectations and provide structure and routine, but remain flexible,” Robertson said. “There is a clear parent-child dynamic, but children are respected, listened to and given choices. Authoritative parents are nurturing and trustworthy.”

Authoritative parenting is considered the most effective style.

The Good Brigade via Getty Images

Authoritative parenting is considered the most effective style.

Research indicates that the authoritative style is the most beneficial for children’s development and therefore the style to strive for as a parent. It is about creating a warm emotional climate together with a healthy, moderate to high level of demandingness and control.

“This is the boss we all love to work for,” Oriard said. “This boss is in the office and is friendly and welcoming to all of their employees. They know Suzy fell off her bike last week and checked in to see how she was doing. This boss has high expectations of all their employees, but communicates this openly and is willing to discuss things in a different way if you feel it will help you.”

For children, an authoritative parent is supportive, responsive and nurturing. They are kind, caring and loving, but also set firm limits and have high expectations. They explain their reasoning and listen to their child’s point of view, even if they don’t approve of it.

“When high expectations are accompanied by a warm emotional climate, children are better able to thrive,” Oriard said. “While neglectful-uninvolved parenting leads to numerous negative outcomes, authoritative parenting is known as the style that creates the most positive outcomes for children.”


“Permissive parents are warm and loving, but this style is without many rules or structure,” Robertson noted. “Sometimes this parent would be described as more of a friendship relationship than a parent. There is much less direction or expectation and children are given a lot of autonomy and a voice in most decisions. If rules are established, they are often not enforced.”

Permissive parenting involves a warm emotional climate, but little demandingness and control.

“If their kid hits your kid on the playground, they don’t step up to correct the behavior, they just let it go and get it for kids being kids,” Oriard said. “In the office, it’s the boss who doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. They don’t have many demands and let you do your own thing. If you screw up a big project, that’s okay. No problem. Did you yell at your customer over the phone? No problem.”

She noted that children of permissive parents tend to have behavioral problems and struggle socially.

“They may also struggle a bit at school or in environments where there are rules to follow,” Oriard added.

Parents are not set in one parenting style at all times.

MoMo Productions via Getty Images

Parents are not set in one parenting style at all times.

Like the other styles, this one is not right. There are practical ways to make changes to move away from a less effective style and more toward an authoritative style.

“If a parent tends to be more permissive and has informal schedules or unpredictability in routine, this can be difficult for children as they use routines and schedules to learn about the patterns of the day, what to expect, how to to feel safe and dependable,” Robertson said. “A permissive parent can start by creating a consistent bedtime routine, knowing that it will help their child’s development.”

Yet even the best parents will not be authoritative 100% of the time. Everyone has days when they are less patient or more indulgent than they would normally be.

“It’s okay to be flexible and do the best you can every day,” Oriard said. “Understanding these parenting styles is just a small window into understanding how we as caregivers can best support our children as they grow into wonderful adults. All that any of us can hope for is that when they grow up, our children will be caring, confident and resilient members of our community.”

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