When it comes to raising kids, it’s all about figuring out what routines, practices, and approaches work best for you and your family. Sometimes it takes trial and error, and other times it’s just about doing whatever gets you through the day. But it’s important to be thoughtful about how you interact with your kids and deliberate about your approach to parenting. Your parenting style—or the way you set expectations and boundaries, show support and affection, and discipline your children—can significantly impact their development, relationships, and well-being. It can affect the bond you have with them too.
Parenting styles have two key elements: control and compassion. When you think of control, it’s really about how much you expect from your children, and specifically, how much you expect them to fit within a certain mold. You can demand a lot from your child to get him or her on the right track. Or you can let them do whatever they please.
- How much do you focus on changing your kids’ behavior and setting boundaries?
- How often do you track their actions?
- When it comes to their responsibilities and interactions with others, how independent are your kids?
- How much do you value individuality and uniqueness?
Compassion is about how well you can respond to and support your children’s needs. On one end, you can show interest, respect, and caring warmth toward your child. Or you can show little concern or interest. Parenting with compassion gives your child space to grow while knowing you have their back.
- Are you in tune with your child’s emotions and interests?
- When do you give in to their requests?
- How do you explain your feelings, rationales, and reasoning to your child?
- How consistent are you with discipline?
- How flexible are you?
There are four parenting styles that combine these elements:
- Drill sergeants are highly demanding and less nurturing. They tightly supervise their children and their behavior. Drill sergeants also set strict boundaries. They tend to have firm rules and expect their children to act a certain way. In general, these parents focus less on open communication too. Some research shows that military parents are more commonly “drill sergeants” than civilian parents.
- Warm leaders set firm and consistent limits, and they’re highly responsive to their children. These parents expect mature behavior, and they support their kids’ individuality and growth. They watch their children closely, but they encourage them to think and act independently. “Warm leaders” are attentive, offer guidance, and share experiences together with their kids. This style of parenting is best for children’s development and health.
- Teddy bears prioritize affection and warmth in their relationships with their kids. They have few or loose rules, and they tend to give their kids more freedom. These parents rarely punish their children and encourage them to make their own decisions. “Teddy bears” lean towards being their children’s friend.
- Ghosts are uninvolved parents—neither demanding nor warm. They tend not to enforce boundaries and also show little interest in their kids’ behaviors or hobbies. In general, “ghost” parents are inattentive and have little interaction with their kids.
Parenting styles matter
Your parenting style affects how your kids bond with you, and it’s linked to your child’s outcome. Though it’s important to find a style that’s authentic to you and your values, it’s essential to strive toward warm leadership.
Warm leaders tend to have well-adjusted kids with fewer behavior problems, and their children are less likely to get in trouble or experience depression. Their kids tend to do well in school, be strong leaders, and feel less fearful too. Overall, they tend to have better social relationships and a closer bond with their parents. Meanwhile, children of drill sergeants, teddy bears, and ghosts often struggle with behavior, coping, and being close to their parents.
It’s a hard balance to strike, but remember, it’s not about being a “perfect” parent. It’s about striving to be “good enough.” Ideally, you’re a caring parent who sets good boundaries for your kids’ safe development. If you work too hard to meet your child’s every need, then your child doesn’t learn to become independent. When children experience some frustration along the way or have to figure out things on their own, they become more equipped to tolerate frustration and face adversity. And they learn how to solve problems for themselves. That said, don’t leave them hanging, but gently guide them to figure things out.