Featured Topic: How do you parent? A spectrum of parenting styles

In an era of greater shared child-rearing responsibilities, primary caregiver roles now encompass not only the traditional genetic contributors of mother and father, but also extended family members, adoptive parents, early childhood care providers, and others. The pros and cons of such arrangements have attracted research attention in recent years, with one consideration relating to how child-rearing styles may differ across the various individuals involved in a child’s day-to-day care. Is it preferable—and, indeed, possible—to attempt to have all caregivers follow one parenting model? Or would children benefit more from seeing a range of such models that is more representative of the different personality types they will encounter as they grow up?

Erozkan (2009) suggested that the various approaches to parenting can be broadly divided into the following five styles: authoritarian, democratic, dismissive, protective, and inconsistent. There is some overlap between these categories, such that parents may simultaneously employ some strategies and tactics from multiple styles. Although attempts to have all caregivers utilize a single parenting style may not be possible, Erozkan’s findings indicate that a general approach could perhaps be formed across the more compatible styles.

Describing authoritative and protective approaches, SBP authors Llorca-Mestre, Samper-García, Malonda-Vidal, and Cortés-Tomás (2017) stated that “an excess of parental control may deprive children of the opportunity to develop their autonomy”; however, they also point out that having “a set of coherent, consistent rules positively affects children’s psychological adjustment” (p. 679). The key difference these authors noted is the presence of a warm, affectionate parental figure who forms this set of rules. Failure to convey warmth and affection leads to children viewing their parents as overly harsh and restrictive, and these children are more likely to rebel against the rules their parents attempt to set. 

Parents are typically the main source of meeting children’s attachment needs during the first few years of life, but other groups gain more influence in this context as the children age. For example, Llorca-Mestre et al. (2017) noted that peer relationships become increasingly important between 10–20 years of age. During this period parents spend less time supervising their children, which can lead to a shift toward a more democratic parenting style. 

Comparing the warm, nurturing parenting approach some mothers take to that of mothers who use authoritarian, dismissive, and inconsistent styles, Guo and colleagues (2011) conducted a monozygotic twin study to examine children’s effortful control (i.e., the ability to regulate one’s temperament), which they state has long been considered to be primarily genetically determined rather than influenced by one’s environment. These authors found that more warm, nurturant-involved maternal parenting and less hostile, harsh–inconsistent maternal parenting resulted in greater effortful control.

In another example of overlapping parenting approaches, Shek, Lee, and Chan (1998) found that having parents who showed less responsiveness and demandingness (characterizing the dismissive style), and a lack of concern (indicating an inconsistent parenting style), was associated with children having low academic achievement. Parents who employed these approaches displayed traits such as not encouraging their children to think independently and not providing assistance when their children encountered difficulties with school work.

The advantage of having so many different styles to choose from—including those that aren’t covered in Erozkan’s (2009) categorization, such as attachment parenting—is that caregivers can select the best parts of each approach and adjust them to suit the needs of each child. Some children may benefit from a stricter set of boundaries (e.g., authoritative and protective style components), whereas other may flourish under a more flexible approach where they are given greater autonomy by their parents as they grow up (democratic style). Here at SBP we’re always interested to see the differences in personality and behavior that manifest in all kinds of contexts, and how fields such as parenting approaches have evolved over our 47-year history! We invite you track this progression through our archives with a personal subscription, giving you access to over 6,000 papers on a huge variety of topics within the fields of social, behavioral, and developmental psychology.

Rejection sensitivity levels with respect to attachment styles, gender, and parenting styles: A study with Turkish students – Atilgan Erozkan, 2009, 37(1), 1–14.

Parenting style and peer attachment as predictors of emotional instability in children – Llorca-Mestre, Samper-García, Malonda-Vidal, and Cortés-Tomás, 2017, 45(4), 677–694.

Nonshared environment and monozygotic adolescent twin differences in effortful control – Fei Guo, Zhiyan Chen, Xinying Li, Xiaodong Yang, Jie Zhang, and Xiaojia Ge, 2011, 39(3), 299–308.

Perceptions of parenting styles and parent-adolescent conflict in adolescents with low academic achievement in Hong Kong – Daniel T. L. Shek, T. Y. Lee, and L. K. Chan, 1998, 26(1), 89–98.