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Types of Parenting Styles: What Are They and Which Ones Work?

Parenting is the most demanding job. It is a lifelong commitment; you will always be their parent even after your kids become adults and move out. I still go to my mom for advice regularly, which I see as a sign of a solid parent-child relationship. 

Unfortunately, no book or manual tells us how to be the best parent. And, even if there was one book, every child is different. Children, like adults, have different personalities, skill sets, emotional regulation skills, and interests. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all in parenting.

However, a handful of parenting styles used in modern Western cultures have proven effective. Most experts say that Authoritative Parenting is the most effective style of parenting. However, Attachment Parenting and Free Range Parenting are also popular and effective in the United States. 

So how do you, as a parent, know which parenting style works best for you and your children? We’ve broken down the six most common parenting styles in the U.S. with their pros, cons, and examples to help you learn more about them. 

What are the Different Parenting Styles?

The six most recognized parenting styles are Authoritative, Authoritarian, Attachment, Permissive, Free Range, and Helicopter Parenting. Each parenting style has pros and cons, but child psychologists and other developmental experts agree that some styles raise healthier and more productive children than others. 

Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parenting is considered the most effective and beneficial style of parenting. Children raised by authoritative parents are more likely to succeed academically and socially and are better at problem-solving. 

Parents who use the authoritative style set limits and boundaries with realistic consequences. They parent with a loving, supportive warmth but remain firm when required. 

Because these children are raised in a secure environment where they know what to expect, they are less likely to develop anxiety or depression and more likely to thrive socially. In addition, they are typically reliant and independent in solving problems. 

Characteristics of Authoritative Parenting

  • Establish firm limits, rules, and boundaries that are consistent and age-appropriate
  • Offer positive feedback regularly.
  • Have realistic expectations based on their child’s age and developmental level.
  • Listen to their children and consider their thoughts and input
  • Provide a loving and secure home environment
  • Encourage appropriate risk-taking and independent problem-solving


  • Children are less likely to exhibit mental health issues like depression or anxiety. 
  • Children typically perform better academically.
  • Children tend to be better physically and less likely to engage in inappropriate, risky behavior like illegal substances, violence and fighting, and unhealthy sexual behaviors.


  • There aren’t any cons developmentally to children raised in an authoritative household. However, consistency for parents, especially when co-parenting between two households, can be challenging. 
  • Rules must occasionally be adjusted for individual children and as children age.
  • Authoritative parenting does not guarantee a successful, healthy child, as other developmental and environmental factors may be at play.

Examples of Authoritative Parenting

  • Your child didn’t clean up his bedroom as asked before bedtime and instead played on his tablet. You discuss with your child that since he didn’t do what was asked and the tablet was a distraction, he will lose access to the tablet tomorrow after school until his room is clean. 
  • Your child tried out for the High School baseball team but made JV instead of Varsity. You praise the effort they put into their tryout and remind them they did their best and that you are proud of them. 

Attachment Parenting

Attachment parenting is another popular style in the United States. Attachment parenting focuses on putting the child first and creating a safe and secure environment for them. 

Characteristics of Attachment Parenting

  • There is a lot of loving, appropriate physical contact between parent and child.
  • Parents immediately respond to children by offering comfort and support and making them feel loved and valued. 
  • Parents often bed-share and breastfeed into toddlerhood.
  • Discipline is characterized by guidance and positive reinforcement rather than consequences. 


  • Children tend to be exclusively breastfed longer, which promotes brain development and secure attachment to parents. 
  • Children are likely to develop healthy emotional regulation skills
  • Children tend to develop strong language skills 


  • Bedsharing increases the risk of SIDS.
  • Attachment parenting may be physically and emotionally draining to the parents, increasing the risk of mental health issues like depression.
  • Less privacy for parents, which may affect the relationship

Examples of Attachment Parenting

  • Your toddler falls down and cries. You immediately rush to their side and comfort them. 
  • You continue to breastfeed your toddler on demand.

Free-Range Parenting 

Free-range parenting is a third successful style of parenting common in Western cultures. Free-range parenting allows children to take risks and roam freely but with parental guidance. 

However, free-range parenting doesn’t mean children can do whatever they want. On the contrary, free-range parents allow their children more freedom and independence but with the understanding that there are still rules to be followed and consequences if a rule is ignored. 

To successfully free-range parent, adults must understand what is developmentally and age-appropriate for their child. Every child is different, so while your oldest child may have been able to independently walk to school at age eight, your younger child might not be developmentally ready for that step yet. 

Children raised with free-range parenting tend to be more independent, responsible, and adept at problem-solving and conflict resolution.

Characteristics of Free-Range Parenting

  • Rules and consequences are established, but children are given free-range to play, explore, and be with friends.
  • Appropriate risks are encouraged. 
  • Independence and self-reliance are supported and encouraged.


  • Promotes independence and problem-solving
  • Allows children a sense of freedom and control over their actions
  • Promotes self-reliance 
  • Children raised in a free-range household tend to show fewer signs of depression or anxiety.


  • Unsupervised children may become injured. 
  • Free-range parents have been charged with neglect in the past (although it is rare)
  • This style requires careful balancing and understanding of each of your children’s developmental skills. 

Examples of Free-Range Parenting

  • You allow your eight-year-old to walk home from school daily unsupervised and let themselves into the house.
  • You allow your ten-year-old out into the neighborhood to play with the understanding that they come home when it gets dark. 

Additional Parenting Styles

Less effective yet still pervasive parenting styles include Authoritarian Parenting, Permissive Parenting, and Helicopter Parenting. Unfortunately, these three parenting styles are less effective at raising emotionally healthy, resilient children.

Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parenting should not be confused with authoritative parenting. Instead, authoritarian parenting is characterized by “Do as I say” or “Because I said so.” It has rules and consequences, but unlike authoritative parenting, this style doesn’t take the time to teach children or explain why a rule exists. 

Authoritarian parents set strict rules, have high (often unrealistic expectations) for their children, use punishment instead of reasonable consequences, and do not encourage open communication. 

Children raised in an authoritarian household are more prone to behavioral problems at home and school. They tend to not respect their parents (although they may follow the rules). They are also likelier to engage in unhealthy behaviors like drugs and risky sexual encounters. 

These children are also more likely to skip school, have poor grades, and experience mental health problems like depression. 

Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting is sometimes confused with free-range parenting. However, the main difference is that with permissive parenting, there are no limits or rules. 

Permissive parents are often very loving but provide no boundaries for their children.

A lack of boundaries is confusing to children who developmentally crave structure. While some individuals raised in permissive households claim it developed their independence and decision-making skills, research points to increased stress and poorer physical health

Children of permissive parenting are also more prone to teenage drinking and becoming victims of bullies. In addition, they often lack manners or a sense of responsibility to or empathy for others and are demanding and impulsive. 

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting is a term that many parents are familiar with. It is the parent who schedules every minute of their child’s day. Who signs them up for sports, music, and academic clubs without their child’s input with the desire to push them ahead academically and socially.

These parents often control or strongly influence their child’s friends, clothing, extracurricular activities, and free time. While helicopter parents tend to be loving and genuinely have their child’s best interests at heart, they are stripping their child of the ability to problem-solve with each decision they overtake. 

Children of helicopter parents tend to lack independence and self-reliance, cannot handle stressful or disappointing situations, and are unable to advocate for themselves. 

One plus to helicopter parenting is that research indicates these children are less likely to engage in underage drinking or take sexual risks in college. But conversely, as adults, children of helicopter parents experience more stress, have a bigger fear of failure, and lack self-confidence and self-esteem. 


Chances are, like most parents, you will find yourself dabbling with different parenting styles. You may adhere mostly to one type of parenting but sometimes need to take tactics from others for specific situations.

The critical thing to remember when parenting is that all children need consistency, limits, and boundaries. And you will need to create flexibility within those limits and boundaries to accommodate your family lifestyle, and your children’s varying 

temperaments and developmental abilities, and your individual needs. 

While authoritative parenting is considered the most effective by experts, you may find that attachment or free-range parenting best fits your lifestyle. We all have moments of “Because I said so” or worrying about our kids and overstepping to protect them. However, these moments don’t make you an authoritarian or helicopter parent. Experiment with different parenting styles, discuss these ideas with your parenting partner, and create the right balance and mix that works for you and your family. 

L. Elizabeth Forry

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She has a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education and a Bachelor of Arts in English, and one in Music. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, and gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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