The Baumrind Theory of Parenting Styles

Diana Baumrind is a leading clinical and developmental psychologist whose work on parenting styles is groundbreaking, even decades after she published her 1966, 1967 and 1971 studies on the effects that different parenting styles have on child rearing. In her study, “Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior,” from the abstract published on APA PsychNet, of the American Psychological Association, she observed three groups of preschoolers. Mistrustful and unhappy preschoolers had controlling and nonnurturing parents. Self-reliant and happy preschoolers had demanding but nurturing and communicative parents.

Immature and dependent preschoolers had warm parents who did not set limits. On this basis, Baumrind developed the authoritarian, authoritative and permissive parenting styles.


Based on Baumrind’s observations, authoritarian parents are rigid and controlling, and they demand a lot from their children without offering warmth or responding to a child’s needs. A child must do as he is told.

If a child asks why, the parent answers, “Because I say so.” Authoritarian parents rely on harsh discipline, and a child has little control over his life. The effect of this tends to produce children who aren't sure of themselves and who have difficulty completing tasks.

These children might be difficult, might withdraw socially and might not form trusting relationships easily. In the book, "Psychology Concepts and Applications" by Jeffrey S. Nevid, Baumrind notes that teen boys of authoritarian parents are likely to do poorly in school, lack initiative and might be unfriendly toward peers.


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The 3 Types of Parenting Styles

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Like the authoritarian parent, the authoritative parent sets high expectations. Unlike the authoritarian parent, the authoritative parent is responsive to her child’s needs. These parents are flexible. They listen and give advice. Nevid notes that Baumrind stated that children of authoritative parenting are the most likely of the three styles to have positive outcomes. These children are self-reliant, have high self-esteem and are popular with their peers. Authoritative parents encourage their children to be independent and assertive, while also being respectful of others. These parents rely on reason, not force. They explain the rules and they listen to their children, and they set reasonable expectations.

What the authoritative style has in common with authoritarian parenting is that both are high in setting limits and in their expectations of mature behavior. Where the two differ is in their discipline styles, communication and warmth.

Authoritarian parents are forceful, but authoritative parents are reasonable. Authoritative parents communicate warmth; authoritarian parents do not.


Permissive parents offer plenty of warmth but don't set limits. They let their child do as he pleases, and these children might grow up without understanding that society will impose limits on their behavior. Consequently, children of permissive parents often grow up frustrated by their attempts to function within society’s expectations. The effect of permissive parenting, Baumrind notes, is that these children might be impulsive, might lack self-control and might not have experience in molding their wishes to others’ expectations, which makes it difficult for these children to adapt to adult life, according to Nevid's book.


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Baumrind was able to observe preschoolers in their natural setting -- in preschool -- and the children were of an age that rendered them unlikely to alter their genuine, instinctive reactions. Baumrind’s three parenting styles continue to be a workable framework for parents to understand which parenting styles work best -- and why.

Baumrind cautions against trying to apply this framework to children raised by parents raised in other cultures, where authoritarian parenting might be the norm.

In her original study, she noted that in the U.S., most authoritarian parenting was in children whose parents were in the lower socio-economic strata. Partly, this might stem from an attempt on the parents’ part to shield their children from stressors commonly found in economically poorer neighborhoods such as increased crime and violence.