Child Abuse Prevention Month – Parenting Styles

By Bernadette Peace | Family Advocacy | April 13, 2018



Is there ever a time when parenting isn’t full of challenges, worries, joys and fears? As a parent of an 18 and 20 year old, I haven’t seen one. I assume I never will.  In fact, my own parents still seem to take pride in my accomplishments, give me advice and feel anxious about my wellbeing. I think that is the way it is supposed to be. From their first breath and forever after, we love our children. We want what is best for them and their lives are intertwined with ours.


If there is a nearly universal truth that parents love their children, why does abuse happen?  As a child protection worker, I can tell you that the majority of maltreatment cases were not because parents did not love their children. The reasons for maltreatment are as varied as the individual families they affect. However, understanding your own parenting style and the difference between discipline and abuse may help build in some protective factors for your family. 


Four Different Parenting Styles


Uninvolved- The uninvolved parent has limited interaction, support, and decision making. They may or may not be physically present. Physically distanced parents do not see or communicate with their child. For the physically present parent, it may mean they are emotionally distant.  This occurs for a wide-variety of reasons.  They may also be very permissive because they are really uninvolved. A child in this home may feel unloved and can be insecure in their relationships or may have attention seeking behaviors.


Permissive- A permissive parent is unlikely to have many rules or structure to their home. They may struggle to say “no” to their children. Children in these homes seem to rule the roost and may be described as spoiled. Parents may make little or no demands on their children. Chores? Probably not. Ice cream for dinner? Sure. Though children may seem to enjoy the freedom in these homes, they can be ill-prepared for a world full of expectations.


Authoritarian- The “my way or the highway” parent is full of rules, structure and consequences but often quite empty on empathy and affection. The parent is the only one in the household whose opinion matters. Their expectations are rigid and non-negotiable. These parents may be seen as strict and often overly punitive. Children may appear more obedient but obey out of fear. Once fear of consequences is removed, they may struggle to be able to make wise decisions for themselves. Without warmth and affection, children would likely have challenges feeling bonded to a parent or even making meaningful emotional relationships as an adult.


Authoritative- Authoritative parents have a healthy balance of being emotionally supportive and available to their children while also providing rules and structure. These parents understand that children need love to thrive but also need boundaries in order to be safe and respectable people.  They are assertive in their parenting but also give children the freedom to express independence in an age appropriate way. Instances in which a child can make a safe decision, an authoritative parent may let them do that. To their toddler, they may say “What color shirt do you want to wear?” but will still require that the toddler wears shoes to play outside. To a teenager, they may say “You can go to the movies” but will still hold firm to a reasonable curfew. Boundaries are established and clear but the home environment is one of open communication and emotional safety. Parents recognize the importance of affection and praise as well as boundaries and consequences.


If you have not concluded yet, the authoritative parent usually has established a healthy household. There may be components of other parenting styles that come into play in authoritative households. For example, you may feel a little more authoritarian when you tell your child for the umpteenth time to stop hitting her brother or your teenager comes home an hour after curfew. You may have a long day and feel pretty uninvolved. On your child’s birthday, you may be permissive and let them have that ice cream for dinner. That is completely normal and healthy. However, deciding the kind of parent you generally want to be will help guide your decisions and can have a lasting effect on your child’s development and your family’s cohesiveness.