Developmental psychologists and family scholars have been interested in how parents influence children’s development for nearly 100 years. One of the most validated research findings in this line of research is the concept of "parenting styles" developed by Dr. Diana Baumrind a Child Psychologist at Sandford University.  There are literally thousands of studies that validate parenting styles and show that there are real-life consequences for children raised by parents with different parenting styles. As you’ll see, parental warmth is a key component of parenting styles and taking some time to learn more about parenting styles can help you as you strive to determine how you can strengthen your warmth and emotional connection with your child.

Dr. Baumrind’s model of parenting styles is based on two central dimensions of parenting behavior, what she called “parental warmth” and “parental control.” Parental warmth – which is also called parental responsiveness or supportiveness – refers to what Dr. Baumrind describes as the extent to which parents are “attuned” and “supportive” of their child’s personal needs.  Parental control – which is also sometimes called “discipline” or “regulation” – refers to parenting behaviors aimed at disciplinary efforts and a willingness to confront the child who disobeys.

Parenting Styles: Which One Best Describes You?

Categorizing parents according to whether they have high or low levels of warmth and control creates a 2 x 2 typology of four parenting styles: permissive parenting, coercive parenting, authoritative parenting, and uninvolved parenting. Each of these parenting styles reflects different naturally occurring patterns of parental values, practices, and behaviors and a distinct balance of warmth and regulation.

Permissive Parents (also referred to as "indulgent" or "nondirective") are high in warmth and support, but low in regulation.  Therefore, they are loving and supportive but struggle to set limits and help their children regulate their behaviors.  According to parenting experts, permissive parents are lenient, avoid confrontation, and do not require mature behavior of their child.

Authoritarian parents are high in regulation, but low in warmth.  Therefore, they are often demanding and directive, but not warm and responsive. These parents are obedience and status-oriented, and often expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation.  Authoritarian parents provide well-ordered and structured environments with clearly stated rules. However, there is less expression of warmth and affection, with little involvement in the emotional lives of their children.

Authoritative parents are both high in warmth and support, as well as high in regulation.  Therefore, they interact with their child with nurturance and warmth, as well as having high expectations and regulation.  According to parenting experts, authoritative parents monitor their child and teach clear standards for their child’s conduct. But, while they are assertive, they are not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, self-regulated as well as cooperative.

Uninvolved parents are low in both warmth and control.  In extreme cases, this parenting style encompasses neglect and abandonment.  Thankfully, research has shown that this parenting style is not as common as the other three.  Because of this, parenting styles are sometimes presented as having only three styles, rather than four.

Parenting Styles and Child Outcomes

So, as you can see, parenting experts view parental warmth as one of the most important foundations of effective parenting.  It is considered one of the primary parenting strengths – and there are now hundreds of studies that back up these conclusions.

What have these studies found? Studies have shown that parenting styles predict child well-being in the domains of family and peer relationships, academic performance, emotional wellbeing, and problem behavior.  In general, parental warmth predicts how well your child does socially and psychologically, while parental demandingness is associated with developing life skills and self-control in areas like academic performance and avoiding illegal behavior. The research on parenting styles has found:

Authoritative parenting is best. Children and adolescents whose parents are authoritative are more socially adjusted and have better life skills than those whose parents are nonauthoritative.

Uninvolved parenting is the worst. Children and adolescents whose parents are uninvolved perform most poorly in all domains.

Authoritarian parenting negatively impacts emotional development. Children and adolescents from authoritarian families (high in regulation, but low in warmth) tend to perform moderately well in school and be uninvolved in problem behavior, but they have poorer social skills, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression.

Permissive parenting increases problem behaviors. Children and adolescents from permissive or indulgent homes (high in warmth, low in regulation) are more likely to be involved in problem behavior and perform less well in school, but they have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression.

Parenting styles provide a simple, yet insightful way to think of parenting behaviors that predict child well-being across a wide range of outcomes.  Both parental warmth and parental control are important components of good parenting. Authoritative parenting, which balances clear, high parental demands with emotional warmth and recognition of child autonomy, is one of the most consistent family predictors of healthy child outcomes from early childhood through adolescence.

How to Improve Your Parent-Child Emotional Bond

So how do you improve the warmth and emotional bond you have with your child and be a parent who uses the authoritative style? This will vary depending on your situation and your child’s age and temperament, but generally, you can improve your emotional bond by doing the following things:

Be involved in your child’s life. The most important thing you can do is find ways to regularly spend time with your child and be involved in his or her life.  If your child knows you care about him, he will be much more willing to obey you and listen to your counsel.  This may mean attending her soccer games, band concerts, and dance recitals. For other children, it may mean taking the time to sit down individually to discuss concerns or doing one-on-one activities with just you and your child. It means taking the time to be personally invested in each child and his or her developing interests.

Have age-appropriate expectations. Do you expect too much of your child? Are you always harping on him or her because of their mistakes instead of praising them for what they do well? When she makes a mistake, do you ask yourself if she did it on purpose or if it is a function of immaturity that comes with an opportunity for her to learn (and for you to teach)?

Set reasonable limits and insist on obedience. Having a positive emotional bond with your child does not mean that he or she will always be thrilled with you and that there will be no disagreements. A positive emotional bond is established by clear, consistent, and reasonable expectations, which might also mean a disgruntled child at times. For example, a “no media in the bedroom” rule may be an important safeguard for digital safety but may not be popular. Regardless, it should be enforced. It is easiest if you do this from an early age, then you will get less pushback when they are teens. But either way, it is important and should be enforced!

Listen patiently to your child’s point of view. Establishing a positive emotional bond requires careful listening and an attempt to understand and value your child as an individual. As much as possible, encourage participation from your children in family decision-making. Particularly as teens get older, they will benefit from sharing in the decision-making process and hearing a parent explain the reasons for certain boundaries and limits.

In sum, when you take the time to express warmth and establish a positive emotional bond with your child, it will set the foundation needed for other parenting interactions.  It will also be the foundation of monitoring behavior as teens get older and spend more time outside of your home.  Parenting research suggests that a positive relationship will increase your child’s trust in you and knowledge of your positive intentions. This will lead to a higher likelihood that your child will desire to do what you suggest is right and will listen to your advice.

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