Specializing in Behavioral Healthcare for Children &

Adolescents, Families, Couples, and Adults. 














The primary task of parenting is to raise children to be healthy, happy, and well-adjusted adults.  Parents use various discipline techniques to help their children learn to develop appropriate self-control and autonomy.  Discipline involves influencing, teaching, correcting a child’s behavior.  Discipline also involves encouraging, reinforcing, and supporting a child in positive development. 


A parent’s overall style of disciplining and interacting with a child is referred to as “parenting style.”  Research psychologists who study child development have investigated the relationship between various styles of parenting and children’s emotional and behavioral development, and have identified four distinct styles of parenting: The Uninvolved Parent, the Permissive Parent, the Authoritarian Parent, and the Authoritative Parent.  This parenting style typology is based on two important dimensions:  Parent Support and Parent Control (See Figure 1 below).  A respective parent’s particular style of parenting is determined by the balance or ratio of Parent Support to Parent Control. 


Parent Support is defined as the extent to which a parent fosters autonomy and self-regulation in a child by being attuned to the child’s psychological and emotional process, as well as the child’s unique needs and circumstances. 


Parent Control is defined as the expectations a parent places on a child to display pro-social and age-appropriate behavior, and the parent’s willingness to confront a child when he or she disobeys.  Each parenting style utilizes and displays both Support and Control in their style of parenting, but not to the same degree. 


The four parenting styles and their ratio of Parent Support to Parent Control is as follows:


The Uninvolved Parent.  These parents are low in Parent Support, and are low in Parent Control. The Uninvolved parent tends to be emotionally uninvolved in their children’s lives, and are indifferent about the task of supervising and disciplining their child. 


The Permissive Parent.  This parenting style is high in Parent Support, and low in Parent Control.  Permissive parents primarily use Parent Support when disciplining their children, and do not set sufficient limits on their child’s misbehavior.  These parents are lenient, do not require their children to obey, allow their child considerable self-regulation, and avoid confronting their children about their misbehavior. 


Although Permissive parents may be highly attuned to their child's developmental and emotional needs, they have a great of difficulty setting firm limits on misbehavior.  In fact, one clear indicator of this parenting style is the use of inconsistent limits and discipline.  For example, one night bedtime may be at 8:30 p.m., but the following night the child does not go to bed until 10:00 p.m. because when the parent attempted to set a limit and send the child to bed at the usual time, the child resisted the limit and the parent yielded to the child’s demands to stay up. 


Permissive parents tend to use reason and negotiation to gain their child's compliance, instead of setting clear and consistent limits.  These parents also use the attachment relationship and bond with their child to teach right from wrong. These parents use their bond with their child as the basis for their influence over the child’s development and growth.  They tend to spend a great deal of time negotiating and reasoning, and imploring their child to cooperate.  They tend to consider and focus on their child's self-esteem and independence as an individual. 

Children often will comply with permissive parents as a result of the relationship. Unfortunately for permissive parents there are several weaknesses to the style as well. These weakness make this style of parenting ineffective over the long-term. As already mentioned, permissive parents are inconsistent. Over time, children learn to manipulate parents to get their way. Call it ego-centricism or selfish behavior, children do manipulate. Why? Because they can and because permissive parents let them. Children learn a false sense of control over adults that increases their manipulative behavior. Inconsistent limit setting is a form of intermittent reinforcement scheduling, a fancy behavioral term for a very powerful reward system.  Permissive parents also confuse aggressiveness and assertiveness.  One of the negative consequences of permissive parenting, for parents, is that they end up feeling like slaves and martyrs to their children. They resent being taken advantage of and never being shown respect or appreciation for all they do for their children. This builds up into anger and verbally abusive behavior (a common problem area for permissive parents). Learning assertiveness is essential for the permissive parent.

The Authoritarian Parent.  These parents are low in Parent Support, and are high in Parent Control.  Authoritarian parents tend to be highly demanding of their children, but are not adequately supportive and nurturing.  They tend to place a premium on obedience, and “showing respect."   Authoritarian parents expect their orders to be obeyed by their children without questions, explanation, or discussion. 

The Authoritative Parent.  This parenting style is high in Parent Support, and is high Parent Control.  Authoritative parents tend to have high expectations that their children will display appropriate behavior, but they are also very supportive of their child’s emotional and psychological needs.  These parents tend to set clear standards for their child’s behavior and conduct, and expect them to act in socially appropriate ways, yet their style of discipline is not intrusive or punitive.  These parents can be described a “benign dictators” in that they place a premium on concepts such as dignity, self-worth and trust, but also maintain an appropriate degree of authority in the parent-child relationship.  Authoritative parents maintain ultimate “veto” power over their children, yet exercise their dominion in a loving and supportive manner that fosters individual autonomy within age-appropriate limits. 


In addition to differing on the dimensions of Parent Support and Parent Control, parenting styles also differ in the extent to which they include the use of psychological control.  “Psychological control” refers to a parent’s attempts to control and intrude into the psychological and emotional development of the child by the use of parenting practices such as guilt induction, withdrawal of love, or shaming. 


One key difference between Authoritarian and Authoritative parents is in the dimension of psychological control.  Both Authoritarian and Authoritative parents place high demands on their children and expect their children to behave appropriately and obey parental rules. Authoritarian parents, however, also expect their children to accept  their judgments, values, and goals without questioning.  In contrast, Authoritative parents are more open to give and take with their children and make greater use of explanations. Thus,  although Authoritative and Authoritarian parents are equally high in behavioral control,  Authoritative parents tend to be low in psychological control, while Authoritarian parents tend to be high.


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  Figure 1.    Parenting Style Typology