Parenting styles: What sort of parent do you want to be?

Some parents will attest that just keeping everyone alive, clean, fed and loved is a good day. But jokes aside, did you know your parenting style and relationship with your child can influence and shape them? We look at how. 

Did you know your parenting style and relationship with your child can contribute to the regulation of your child’s emotions and behaviours, as well as their health and development in later life? 
Babies are born with behaviours that help them seek safety and support, and their little lives are shaped by having a positive relationship with their caregivers, helping them feel safe, secure and supported as they experience life and the world around them.  
Responding to their needs facilitates what’s known as ‘attachment’. Developmental psychologist and senior research fellow from The Murdoch Childrens Research Institute Dr Tim Moore says there are different types of attachment that can form which are; secure or insecure, and consistent or inconsistent. 
“Think of attachment as a child having a secure base they keep coming back to,” he explains.  “They move out to explore the world and come back, increasing the scope bit by bit. This attachment happens over the first 12 months of life and becomes most obvious at around nine months - typically when they become ‘clingy’. Extraordinarily important, this attachment is about learning whether they are accepted, valued and listened to, and whether the world is a safe place. If they don’t have that core sense of self then future development can be challenging.” 

Getting a head (and heart) start in life

Secure attachment occurs in babies and children when parents or caregivers respond to their needs in a consistent, caring and timely manner like picking them up and reassuring them when they are distressed, or engaging with them through speech and play. 

Developing a secure attachment can help enhance your child’s developmental outcomes later, like self-reliance, empathy and social competence and it can also impact their thought processes, emotional regulation, motives and ability to develop and maintain relationships throughout their lives. It can bring a sense of security, comfort, closeness and interdependence, as well as confidence in seeking support and other positive ways of managing stressors experienced day to day. 

“A baby comes out of the womb looking for the face that goes with the voice they’ve heard for the last trimester,” says Moore. “They’ll prefer your voice to other voices, and they’ll study your face as soon as they’re given the opportunity.”

What happens if we get it wrong?

Babies whose caregivers consistently fail to respond to their needs, or respond in an insensitive or rejecting way (like ignoring them or becoming annoyed) can instead teach their child to deal with difficult situations in a similar way. 

“The thing that damages kids is neglect,” explains Moore. “This is as damaging, if not more so, than abuse. Our brains are designed to interact with other brains and they’re built through that interaction.”
father looking at his newborn baby

Different parenting styles

Research over the years has determined some core parenting methods, with newer ideas taking form in recent times also. Let’s look at some common parenting styles:

  • Authoritarian parenting: where parents are highly demanding and controlling of the child but not particularly responsive. Their children can tend towards being moody, unhappy and easily annoyed.
  • Permissive parenting: where parents are highly responsive to the child, however make no or few demands and lack parental control. Children of permissive parents may often appear impulsive, aggressive, rebellious and lack self-control. 
  • Uninvolved parenting: where parents often fail to supervise the child and remain largely non-responsive. This can result in aggression, frequent temper tantrums and antisocial tendencies in their children. 
  • Authoritative parenting: where parents place moderate demands on the child and are accepting and responsive. They encourage open communication and provide a safe space from which the child can explore independently. 
  • Attachment parenting: where parents focus on building a secure attachment with their children in a very ‘hands on method’. Often attachment parents are literally attached to their children for a prolonged period of time - from  baby-wearing from infancy, through to co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding. The emphasis is on close physical contact for as much of the day as possible, and allowing the baby/child to lead the way by indicating their needs when they’re ready. To read more on attachment parenting read our article here.

Are there good parenting styles? 

Each parenting style has its pros and cons but children who experience authoritative parenting tend to be better adjusted, cheerful, socially responsible, self-reliant, achievement oriented, and cooperative with adults and peers. 

Ultimately however, parenting can come in all shapes and sizes, and often it’s about what’s best for you and baby.  

Determining your parenting style

As discussed above there are many different parenting styles, from authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting, uninvolved parenting, authoritative parenting and attachment parenting, to name a few. Some parents might naturally be drawn to one parenting method over others. 
Our parenting style is usually based on our personal experience, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours, and is largely shaped by how we were raised. Responsiveness, warmth, sensitivity, acceptance, predictability, consistency and leaving out harsh forms of discipline tend to bode well. 
“You have these default parenting ‘templates’ built in by your early experiences,” explains Moore. “However, your style can be modified as you learn from your partner or other models of care you see or experience, and parenting programs can help. Experience counts too - people these days come to parenting with far less experience because families are smaller, so we’re missing out on growing up in a big family and looking after little ones. Many people become parents without ever having held a baby.” 
Ultimately the parenting style you choose needs to be practical for your family, and support your child to grow into a socially and emotionally adaptive individual. It can be worthwhile talking with your partner and other key people who will be involved in the care of your child about you’re preferred parenting methods.
Curious as to what type of parent you will or might be? Try our lighthearted quiz to put your parenting style to the test, here.
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