In the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind studied preschoolers and their parents, and her observations led to identifying four distinct parenting styles. After decades more research, psychologists now use these four styles to educate and support parents. While no parenting label perfectly sums up everyone, identifying your parenting style gives you a starting point to improve your relationship with your kids. Read through these four descriptions to see which one describes your current style.

1. Authoritarian parenting

Authoritarian parents have a lot of rules and value obedience in their children. They expect high achievement, and they offer little explanation for their strict rules. Often, authoritarian parents come across as overbearing and harsh. The children of authoritarian parents are very competent, but they aren't very happy. They also have very low self-esteem as adults.

2. Permissive parenting

Permissive parents need their children to see them as a friend, so much so that they have very lax or no rules. Permissive parents let their children get away with a lot so they won't be seen as "the bad guy." These parents do not expect mature behavior from their children, so their kids are often low achievers who have difficulty regulating their behavior. In adulthood, people raised by permissive parents have problems with authority, which leads to difficulty in school and employment.

3. Uninvolved parenting

Uninvolved parents show little interest in their children's lives. They may be distracted by their own mental health issues or busy trying to provide for their family. Uninvolved parents expect almost nothing from their children and have few or no rules. Children raised by uninvolved parents fare the worst in adulthood. They have low self-esteem and poor achievement.

4. Authoritative parenting

When parents lead authoritatively, they set logical guidelines for the family, expect appropriately mature behavior and parent with love and compassion. When a child misbehaves, the authoritative parent uses the situation as a teaching opportunity, not a reason for punishment. They are generally very nurturing. As adults, people with authoritative parents are happy, cooperative and have a good deal of self-regulation. The children of authoritative parents are most likely to lead successful, productive adult lives.

Based on the descriptions above, we should all strive for authoritative parenting, but how can we get there on a practical level? Here are some suggestions to make your parenting style more authoritative:

  • Set clear family rules and consequences with input from your children. Enforce them consistently.

  • When your kids misbehave, follow through on consequences, but focus on teaching and not punishing. Give your children grace as they make mistakes.

  • Be involved in your kids' day-to-day lives. Attend their games and performances, get involved at their school and learn about their friends.

  • Give your children the support they need to pursue their interests, and encourage them to follow through with activities.

  • Be a leader in your household. Model pro-social behavior and treat your children the way you expect them to treat you.

  • Expect appropriately mature behavior. Read up on developmental milestones and enlist your kids to help around the house. Give them responsibility and don't rush in to save them every time they have a misstep.

Your children need your loving participation in their life. If you feel you're not currently measuring up as a parent, take comfort knowing that kids are great at forgiving, and you can always start now to take the lead in your home. Your kids do not need a parent as a friend or a parent as a dictator. They need a parent they can look up to and model for the rest of their lives.

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