Best Parenting Style According to Experts

By: Rodaina Ibrahim Reviewed by Dr. Rosina McAlpine

Being a parent is both hard, confusing, and unpredictable. You are faced with a lot of situations where you are not sure what the best solution might be. Your child refuses to eat the brocollies, or even more relevant, they cry and throw a tantrum when you take their tablet or phone away.

All parents are faced with these choices everyday, and some of their approaches are very similar.

With so many people parenting for so long, there must have been some kind of common behaviors and responses that some parents exhibited. This is where Diana Baumrind comes in. The University of California website introduced her as “an internationally-recognized pioneer in research on parenting styles and children’s development,” which is a very apt description. She conducted one of the first studies that included mothers and fathers. She followed children from preschool all the way into adolescence in hopes of finding some insight into parenting and child development.

Through her observations, she managed to divide parenting into three distinctive styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. Later in the 1980s, the neglectful parenting style was added by Stanford researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin, increasing the styles to 4.

So what are these 4 styles? And which one do experts recommend? I talked with Dr. Rosina McAlpine, a Family Wellbeing expert and the CEO of Win Win Parenting as well as Michele Borba, Ed.D, an internationally renowned parenting child expert, educator, international speaker, and author of 24 books including her latest book, Thrivers.

As mentioned above, the 4 parenting styles backed by research are: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful.

You might see some other terms thrown around in social media, like Free-range parenting, Tiger mums, or helicopter parenting. Dr. Rosina McAlpine does not like using these terms, as she sees them as “essentially ‘derogatory’ and so they are generally not helpful in terms of understanding the nature of the approach and their impact on children - it is more about how pop culture writes about parenting to be entertaining rather than educational.”

Here we value information that is both useful, evidence-backed, and educational, so these terms will not be covered here. As for the evidence backed categories, here is a brief description paraphrased from the National Library of Medicine:

Authoritarian Parenting
  • Parent establishes strict rules
  • “My way or the highway” attitude from the parent
  • Mistakes, even small ones, lead to punishment
Authoritative Parenting
  • Close, nurturing relationship with the child
  • Clear guidelines, often set with the child’s input
  • Discipline is used as support and not punishment
Permissive Parenting
  • Warm and nurturing, but with little to no expectations
  • Parents allow children to experiment on their own
  • More of a friend than a parent
Neglectful Parenting
  • Parents stay out of the way, giving children a lot of freedom
  • Fulfill the child’s basic needs but stays detached of anything else
  • Limited communication and little to no nurturing

For more information, visit the Precious Mini instagram and look for the Parenting Styles carousel.

I want you, before continuing, to see if you can place yourself in a specific category. This can be just between yourself, no need to announce it to anyone. It is important to be honest with yourself so you can improve and help your child more.

So which is the best parenting method? Anyone reading the table might say that Authoritative seems to be the best, and experts would agree with them.

Dr. Rosina McAlpine lists some of the many beneficial outcomes for children with Authoritative parenting, including: Optimism, positive relationships, psychological wellbeing, autonomy and self-regulation, empathy, emotional regulation as well as higher educational attainment and income.

“It is clear that the authoritative style has the best outcomes for children (and parents) so it is then clear that this is the best approach to adopt when raising well-rounded happy children,” she said.

Michele Borba agrees with her, describing authoritative parenting like a runway.

“When you're landing on a runway and, hopefully there's lights on both sides that are open. One side is your love and respect for the child. But the other one is firm and fair and there's a balance between the two. Sometimes what we do is too much on one side, not enough on the other. And what we do know is that particular parenting style, it seems to be the also the one that's more likely to raise the resilient child”

This is all well and good in theory, but reality can be difficult to predict and control. Sometimes, as a parent, you are under so much pressure that you snap. Or sometimes you need to be more strict with your child than before. Adhering to a specific parenting style sometimes is just not possible.

Dr. McAlpine recognizes this, and explains that healthy family relationships are formed when parents do their best to minimize their outbursts so they are exceptions instead of the norm. “While it is true that parents are only human and when angry or stressed may display short 'bouts' of authoritarian parenting or when they're on holidays they may reduce the boundaries or rules ... the best outcomes for children compare achieved when the permissive or authoritative parenting approaches are just the exception and not the general approach. Authoritarian parenting supports families to raise happy, healthy well-rounded children.”

Michele Borba agrees, recognizing that parents often fluctuate between different parenting styles. “Sometimes you're a little more permissive, sometimes you're a little more authoritative, sometimes it's ‘no this is the way it's gonna go’, and it depends upon the child, the situation, what's going to help that child thrive.”

What is important, and what each parent should keep in mind, is for them to be more intentional and aware of their actions and how it will affect your child.

“As a society - we need to support parents to understand the harms of harsh approaches to parenting and to develop their skills on how to parent more effectively with more knowledge and skills in a judgement-free caring environment,” Dr. McAlpine said.

I hope this has been a useful blog, gently guiding you in the right direction. Mistakes are inevitable, and it is never too late to learn and change. Good luck in your parenting endeavors.