What’s Your Parenting Style?

What’s Your Parenting Style?

Picking your way through the maze of parenting styles can get confusing, but one evergreen style comes out on top in the research.

In 1966, psychologist Diana Baumrind famously identified three parenting styles – authoritarian, authoritative and permissive – that are still widely used by psychologists today. Diana believed the authoritative style to be the most successful for raising emotionally healthy children, and many studies have since indicated she was on to something.


Authoritative parents uphold their child’s autonomy with warmth, open ears and flexibility, but they also uphold their own authority and don’t allow their child to jointly make the rules.

“Authoritative parents use rational explanations and define their expectations in line with cultural and social norms,” says Dr. Rebecca English, Lecturer in the School of Curriculum at Queensland University of Technology. “They explain what they want, and the why behind it. They value their child’s self-determination, but not at the expense of clear and thorough explanations of why particular behaviours are required of the child. While providing a solid role model and a clear leadership position in the family, these parents allow their child to question direction respectfully.”

Rebecca says you may be an authoritative parent if you:

  1. Allow negotiation with your child over limits, where possible (except in matters of safety, which isn’t negotiable).
  2. Set the standard for appropriate behaviour while explaining the why and the how of this behaviour.
  3. Let your child question your beliefs and attitudes, because you don’t hold yourself up as infallible.
  4. Use soft rather than hard power by letting your child negotiate and question your perspectives in a respectful way.
  5. Understand that firm control and limits are essential, but not at the expense of your child’s developing self-direction.



Authoritarian parents are the ones in control in their families. “They are responsible for controlling the family’s activities, expect obedience and set an absolute standard that must be followed, but they may not be modelling this standard for the child,” says Rebecca.

You might be an authoritarian parent if you:

  1. Allow your child minimal control over the activities of the family.
  2. Value obedience, first time, every time.
  3. Don’t often give your child an explanation for why you expect certain behaviours, but expect them to do as you say anyway.
  4. Assign household duties without consulting your child.
  5. Believe in teaching your child to curb their will.


Permissive parents try to accept their children as they are and avoid punitive responses to their child’s behaviour, says Rebecca. “While presenting themselves as a resource for their children, they don’t expect their children to follow their example or use them as a model for appropriate behaviour. Rather, they allow their child to do as they wish and encourage a rejection of outside power and influence.”

You may be a permissive parent if you:

  1. Don’t expect your child to do what you say.
  2. Allow your child to do what they want, when they want.
  3. May decide not to follow through with a ‘consequence’.
  4. Are comfortable with your child not doing as you say.
  5. Avoid and eschew power plays with your child, or feel uncomfortable with being in a position of power.

Authoritative Scenarios

We posed three hypothetical behaviour scenarios to three different mums and asked them how they would handle the situation authoritatively.

Scenario 1: In the toy store your five year old demands a doll, a fairy costume and lollies at the check-out. You agree to the doll, that’s it. She throws a tantrum as you leave the store. What do you do?

Yolande, Brisbane mum to Harry, eight, and Lola, five: My children know that just because they’re allowed to spend time in the toy aisle, doesn’t mean they will be able to buy something. If we go to a store with the intention of buying a doll, Lola would know beforehand and wouldn’t expect any more. If at the shop she demanded a fairy costume and lollies, I would remind her that we had agreed on one surprise for the day. If she threw a tantrum, I would ask her to calm down and to choose one item. If she refused to choose, I would say, “Ok, you can go home empty-handed,” and leave it up to her to decide.

Scenario 2: Your 10 year old doesn’t want to do his homework. He lingers at his computer game, makes a half-hearted stab at his maths worksheet, and slinks back to the screen when you turn your back. What do you do to make him do his homework properly?

Melissa Mooney, Sydney mum to Daniel, 12: This is the story of my life! I think it’s important not to anticipate or project onto your child what the roadblock might be. Once you know the issue behind the behaviour, you can work with your child on a solution. I would try, “I see you’re getting distracted from your homework. What’s going on?” It’s possible he’s stuck on a maths question and needs help, may need to relax a bit before diving into homework, or maybe something happened at school and he needs to talk.

Scenario 3: Your three year old leaves her shoes in the doorway, every single day. How do you make her put them away?

Melissa O’Loughlin, Melbourne mum to Heidi, eight, and Lilli, six: I would tell her that if she puts her shoes away every day, she will get a treat in her lunchbox at the end of the week. If she needs reminding, I’d say, “Let’s time you!”

The Difference Authoritative Makes

Research has found children of authoritarian parents to be anxious, withdrawn, overly reliant on others to make decisions, and their parents have a negative impact on their academic performance. There can, however, be a right time to be an authoritarian parent. “If you are in a very, very dangerous environment and sticking with the rules is the difference between life and death, then it’s appropriate to be authoritarian,” says Shona Innes, a clinical psychologist specialising in child behaviour at Bendigo Psychology.

Children in permissive households show poor self-reliance and a low tolerance for frustration, and can be bullies, or become bullied themselves.

Children from authoritative households, on the other hand, have a better perception of academic work and of their own efforts, spend more time on homework, engage in the classroom more, cheat less, and achieve higher grades. By the time your child is a teen, Shona notes that authoritative parenting produces an environment where there is likely to be an exchange of values. “Your teen will share with you ideas that affect how you see the world and choose to live in it, at the same time as your ideas are affecting them. Think of it as a long-term investment in staying in touch with your children.”

Psychologist Shona Innes has these guidelines for being an authoritative parent:

  1. Reason in an age-appropriate way. Too much information may leave a child feeling confused.
  2. Soothe first, then explain. A distressed brain can’t process much that is rational.
  3. Don’t be disappointed if your teenager doesn’t come to you for social advice. They will come to you for moral and information decisions, but their friends will still be their ‘go to’ experts for social advice.

Words by Natalie Ritchie