From Gentle to ‘Free-Range’: 10 Different Parenting Styles and How They Affect Kids


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different parenting styles"
different parenting styles
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

If you’ve seen a mom on TikTok talking about “gentle parenting” or “authoritative parenting”, you may be wondering what all the hype is about. 

Research shows that many parents adopt particular patterns of behavior and that these can be classified into different parenting styles. What’s more, certain styles of parenting may impact how children behave and feel about themselves long-term. And while these categories can be a bit simplistic, (I don’t know about you but I sometimes feel like I’m five different parents on the same day), thinking through various views could help you be more self-aware about how you raise your children.

Some parenting styles are based on formal, academic research, while other terms were popularized by a book or influential figure. They can be interesting to learn about either way, but it’s important to know the difference between ideas that have evidence to back them up and those that don’t and to approach any advice with a healthy dose of skepticism.


10 Different Types of Parenting Styles

Arguably the most influential framework of parenting styles is the one developed by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind, who conducted a series of studies in the 1960s looking at childhood behavior and parental control. After observing different families, she identified three common parenting styles that she believed corresponded with how children behave: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. In the 1980s, Stanford researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin built on Baumrind’s research and added a fourth parenting style: uninvolved.

You can think about these four types of parenting as a quadrant. On one side, there’s parental responsiveness (which refers to warmth, support, and being attuned to the child’s particular needs). On the other side, there’s parental demandingness (which refers to control and discipline). Both of these are common attributes, but when one is far more prevalent than the other, or neither is very strong, it can lead to negative outcomes for children.

While the four parenting styles listed above were developed based on reputable studies, there are some factors to consider. For one, parenting varies widely across cultures, which isn’t fully reflected in these studies. In fact, Baumrind excluded some African-American families from her sample because they showed different patterns than the other families, and some research showed exceptions to the rule about authoritarian parenting leading to negative outcomes for some families in some situations. They also can’t possibly take into account every factor for every family, like those with developmental challenges or trauma. 

Finally, keep in mind that parenting styles refer to patterns of behavior, meaning that one day of letting kids trash the house doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a permissive parent, and snapping at your kid doesn’t make you authoritarian if you’re not doing that all the time. Here, we’re sharing round-up of some of the more well-known parenting styles and what we know about their effect on kids.



1. Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parenting is high on demandingness but low on responsiveness. It’s focused on strict rules and controlling children’s behavior based on those rules. An authoritarian parent might provide a well-ordered environment and clear expectations, but they are not responsive to their children. When a kid disobeys, it might be met with a swift punishment with no conversation about why. In Baumrind’s words, “They are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation.” This style is associated with several negative outcomes, including aggression, delinquent behaviors, and anxiety. 


2. Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting (also sometimes referred to as “indulgent parenting”) is basically the opposite of authoritarian: high on responsiveness but low on urgency. A permissive parent might come across as more of a friend than an authority figure, with few or no rules in their home. They might not even comment when the kids are acting out and even avoid conflict. Findings with this style are mixed: kids might have okay social skills and self-esteem, but struggle with skills like self-regulation, and be more impulsive or demanding.


parenting styles

Source: Shutterstock


3. Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parenting is both demanding and responsive and is sometimes referred to as a “sweet spot” between these two qualities. Some use the term “positive parenting” to describe it. Parents in this group may have rules, but they also allow their children to express themselves and listen to their concerns. In Baumrind’s words, “Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative”. Authoritative parenting is associated with many positive outcomes. Children of authoritative parents may be more confident and responsible, learn to manage their emotions more effectively, have higher self-esteem, and do well in school.


4. Uninvolved Parenting

Uninvolved parenting (also sometimes called indifferent or neglectful) has the most potential to negatively impact a child. This is when parents are neither demanding nor responsive—they’re simply checked out. An uninvolved parent may not even notice their child is throwing things to get their attention. This style of parenting is associated with negative outcomes for kids, such as lacking self-regulation and social responsibility, poor school competence, antisocial behavior, anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, neglectful parenting may, in some cases, be the result of parents themselves struggling with mental health issues, (which is why it’s so important to seek help if you think you need it).


5. Positive Parenting

Positive parenting focuses on emotionally connecting with children, respectfully and kindly enforcing boundaries, and giving lots of positive reinforcement for desired behaviors by praising children’s specific actions. It is sometimes used interchangeably with “authoritative parenting” but possibly a more popular or friendly term (it’s used a lot online these days).

It’s not the same as permissive parenting, in that children do have rules and face natural consequences for those rules, but parents communicate those consequences kindly and with explanations (for instance, if you don’t wear a coat you’ll be cold). This parenting style is believed to have positive impacts on both children and teenagers.


6. Gentle Parenting

There’s not one clear definition of gentle parenting, and it inspires plenty of debate between parents online. Some argue gentle parenting is basically the same thing as “authoritative” parenting: setting firm boundaries but communicating them with compassion. Some say it’s the same thing as “positive parenting.” Generally, it’s understood as having an emphasis on comforting children, validating their emotions, and talking to them about why you’re asking them to do something rather than punishing them for misbehaving.

Those who support gentle parenting say it is not the same thing as permissive parenting (in which a parent avoids confrontation altogether). Author and parent Sarah Okwell-Smith helped popularize the idea. She is not a researcher, but she has published many books about gentle parenting.

One of the criticisms of gentle and positive parenting is that people fear it will make kids spoiled and that it puts too much pressure on parents to always be sweet and patient when (let’s be honest) kids can be pretty difficult sometimes. Those who support these styles say that it’s not about being a doormat or letting kids run roughshod over you, but that it does take a lot of patience and self-regulation to stay calm and firm and kind (rather than lashing out at kids).


dad and baby parenting styles

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7. Attachment Parenting

The term “attachment parenting” was coined by pediatrician William Sears and registered nurse Martha Sears—a husband and wife duo who raised eight of their own children. It emphasizes the importance of responding sensitively to children and promotes some specific practices such as baby-wearing and breastfeeding. 

One risk with this term is that it can be confused with attachment theory, which is a specific scientific notion that was developed by researchers whose work was totally separate from the Sears’s. Attachment theory is based on the observation that when a baby’s primary caregiver is loving and responsive, the baby develops a secure attachment and feels safe and supported. 

Importantly, attachment parenting has not been scientifically linked to secure attachment outcomes. While some of the ideas that attachment parenting promotes may work great for some families, there’s no evidence that you should feel guilty if, say, you don’t like carrying your baby in a wrap all day.


8. “Free-Range” Parenting

Like attachment parenting, “free-range” parenting was born not out of the field of psychology but out of cultural ideas that some parents share. It’s the practice of allowing kids more autonomy and less supervision, and it’s seen as the opposite of “helicopter parenting” (in which parents are “circling” around their kids to monitor their activities at all times) or “lawnmower parenting” (in which parents are “mowing down” any obstacles for their children). At the helm of this movement is Lenore Skenazy, a writer who became famous for writing a 2008 article about letting her 9-year-old son ride the NYC subway alone. Skenazy has since written a book on free-range parenting, and runs a website, Free-Range Kids.

Among those who practice free-range parenting, there’s a range of approaches (pun intended). One parent might consider an 8-year-old walking the dog around the block part of the practice, while another thinks it’s just letting them play in the yard unattended. 

There’s not a clear definition of this style or clear evidence of its outcomes. However, there’s been some research on related topics that shine some light on the topic. For instance, some studies show a correlation between the decline in children’s freedom in recent decades and an increase in mental health issues. And some schools have seen positive effects on kids who implemented Skenazy’s principles. So there may be some wisdom in the approach. Still, an “appropriate” amount of independence for a child will depend on many factors, including their age, their disposition, and where they live.


9. European Parenting

Then there are the more casual ways of talking about parenting styles based on people’s personal observations. For instance, some perceive the European parenting style to involve less rigid, packed schedules and more openness towards “adult” food. (The 2012 book Bringing Up Bébé popularized this idea, and a viral TikTok of a Spanish mother complaining about parenting in the U.S. confirms the view).

Of course, Europe is a big place, containing many different cultures, and parents there still face serious problems like sexism and financial stress. So while there can be value in looking at another culture’s norms—especially if it makes you feel more okay about not booking a camp for every hour of the summer, or helps you put less pressure on yourself and your kids—it’d be inaccurate to adopt a totally idealized view of life overseas.


10. Enneagram Parenting

Some parents take inspiration from personality tests. “Enneagram parenting,” for instance, is based on the idea that you can gain insight into your style of parenting using the popular personality test that categorizes people based on nine personality types. Proponents of this approach say that using the Enneagram test can help you identify your strengths and challenges when it comes to relating to others.


Where to find more information about parenting

There are numerous books you can read to dive more deeply into various views on parenting. Generally, the best parenting books are those that base their recommendations off of evidence-based research, and that take into account the wide variety of families and cultures. Here are just a few to consider:

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