Combining Parenting Styles

Parenting styles include four basic types: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved, according to Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist and founder of the website Parenting Science 1. Of the four styles, authoritative parenting seems to have the best outcomes 2. However, parents may have different styles or may use different styles for some children or in certain situations. Parents may also try to combine styles.

Different Styles

Although authoritarian and authoritative parenting sound similar, they are quite different. Authoritarian parents give orders, expect them to be obeyed without question and rely on punishment or threats to control their children. Authoritative parents are warm and nurturing but set boundaries, encourage children to think for themselves and discuss the reasons for rules. Permissive parents are also warm and nurturing but set few or no boundaries and are usually reluctant to enforce rules. Uninvolved parents, as the name implies, essentially ignore their children by offering little or no emotional support. They tend not to make rules or enforce standards of conduct.

Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parenting is actually a combined style 1. Permissiveness is beneficial for its warmth and responsiveness, but makes no demands on the child. Authoritarian parenting, on the other hand, is all demand and no warmth. Authoritative parents try to reach a middle ground between the two styles, borrowing warmth from the permissive style and high standards or demands for appropriate behavior from the authoritarian style. Parents are individuals, and it is unlikely a parent can be exactly one type or the other all the time. A parent might be mostly authoritative but occasionally move in more of an authoritarian direction.

Conflicting Styles

When parents have two different styles, it can be confusing for the child and a source of conflict for the parents. In some cases, the parents can work together to combine their styles in a way that is beneficial. Dad may set the expectations for high grades while Mom provides the warmth and nurturing that keeps a child plugging away at his textbooks. Even if the parents can’t work together, it helps to have an authoritative parent. An article in the February 2007 "Journal of Family Issues" reported that while two authoritative parents resulted in the most positive outcomes for adolescents, one authoritative parent can buffer the child from negative consequences associated with poor parenting by the other parent.

Parenting and Temperament

Many parents may not be consciously aware of how they parent. Children also have different temperaments, which can affect their interactions with parents. A very active, impulsive child may need a more authoritarian response, especially a young child who has no sense of danger. A shy, timid child, however, will need more warmth and responsiveness to help encourage more outgoing behavior. A parent who can adapt her style or combine different elements of the various styles may be more successful with children who have differing temperaments than a parent who uses the same style for all children 4.

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