Parenting Style and Attachment

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Parenting Style and Attachment

The art of being a parent consists in sleeping when the baby isn’t looking. (Proverb)

Children unavoidably treat their parents as though they were experts on life. (Adam Phillips, Terrors and Experts, 1995)

Parentage is a very important profession, but no test of fitness for it is ever imposed in the interest of the children. (G.B. Shaw, Everybody’s Political What’s What? 1930)

It is immediately apparent to any observer that there are many systematic and consistent differences in the way parents behave towards their children. Many factors influence this, including the parent’s age and social class; their social, religious and cultural values as well as their personality and cognitive ability.

It has been asserted that people tend to parent as they were parented because, that is, for most people, their only role model. What is clear, however, is that parenting style certainly has many major and important consequences.

Two dimensions of parental rearing styles emerge consistently from the various methods employed to study parenting patterns:

• The first, separates parents that are controlling and demanding from those that are not demanding.

• The second, differentiates between parents that are child-centred, accepting and responsive and those that are parent-centred, rejecting and unresponsive.

For over 30 years developmental psychologists have attempted to come up with a parsimonious and sensitive categorical scheme that would accurately describe a very different style. This is a necessary prerequisite for doing research in the area. Inevitably there are different models and schemes and consequentially different methods of measuring them. There is, however, more overlap and agreement than disagreement.

Baumrind (1982) did a large-scale study on the different patterns of parental authority employed in raising children. She suggested three types of parenting (authoritative, authoritarian and permissive) behaviours that have empirically been associated with different outcomes for the children.

1 Authoritative parents are viewed as ideal for child development as they combine control and acceptance with child-centred involvement. They are strict and expect appropriate levels of discipline and behaviour, but are willing to explain the reasons behind rules and punishments, and will often value the child’s point of view. These parents are perceived by their children as warm and nurturing. The children in turn tend to be: independent, assertive, co-operative with adults, friendly with peers, intellectually successful, enjoy life and possess a strong motivation to achieve.

2 Authoritarian parents are typically more dictatorial in their dealings with their children. They have an absolute set of standards to which children must conform. They are perceived to be not particularly warm or affectionate. This style of parenting supposedly tends to produce children low on self-reliance, responsibility and achievement motivation.

3 Permissive parenting is characterized by accepting, responsive, child-centred, non-punitive parents who place few demands on their children, leaving them to exercise as much control as possible over their own activities. Children of this parenting style tend to be very positive in their moods and possess more vitality than those of authoritarian parents. Their behaviour, however, is less mature due to low impulse control, responsibility and self-reliance.

Having defined these characteristic parenting patterns one should note that most parents use a combination of all three styles, calling on a particular style as and when it is appropriate.

It is suggested that permissive parents tend to make fewer demands on their children than do other parents, allowing them to regulate their own activities as much as possible. Thus permissive parents are generally less controlling and tend to use a minimum of punishment with their children.

Authoritarian parents, tend to be highly directive with their children and expect unquestioning obedience in their exercise of authority over their children. Baumrind argues that authoritarian parents discourage verbal give-and-take with their children, favouring instead punitive measures to control their children’s behaviour. Baumrind saw parental style as a spectrum with permissive and authoritarian parents at either end and authoritative parents falling somewhere in between these extremes. She saw authoritative parents as providing clear and firm direction for their children, but also warmth, reason and verbal exchange.

Researchers have found clear relationships between a parenting style and many child, adolescent and adult behaviours. They include everything from drug taking and delinquency to educational attainment and economic behaviour. Carlson & Grossbart (1998) distinguished between five parental styles and considered how they relate to consumer socialization: authoritarian, permissive, rigid controlling, authoritative and neglecting.

Authoritarian parents seek high levels of control over children because they view children as dominated by egotistical and impulsive forces. These parents judge children’s conduct by religious or other standards endorsed by authority figures: expect unquestioned obedience, strictly enforce rules and discourage and punish wilful behaviour. Authoritarians believe in parent omnipotence, keeping children in subordinate roles, restricting expression of autonomy and not encouraging verbal exchanges between parents and children. Authoritarians believe children have few rights, but have adult responsibilities.

Rigid Controlling parents are similar to Authoritarians, except that calm detachment limits their emotional involvement in children’s socialization.

Like Authoritarian and Rigid Controlling, Neglecting parents also maintain distant relations with children. However, they neither seek nor exercise much control over children, perhaps because they are self-involved and deny or wish to avoid obligations to provide guidance. Their limited restrictiveness is coupled with a relative lack of warmth or anxious concern about the child’s development. They see children as having a few rights or responsibilities that require parental attention, as being capable of meeting many of their own needs, and recruiting little communication reinforcement. Hence, neglecting parents do little to monitor or directly encourage their children’s capabilities to function autonomously. (p.78).

So in terms of parental warmth, the neglecting parents have the lowest, and the permissive and authoritative the highest. Yet authoritative are the most restrictive on certain issues whereas the permissive the least restrictive. The parental styles differ on all sorts of issues from the quality and quantity of parent—child communication to how the parents control, restrict and mediate things like television viewing consumption.


Baumrind, D. (1982). Are androgynous individuals more effective persons and parents? Child Development, 53, 44—75.

Carlson, L., & Grossbart, S. (1998). Parental style and consumer socialization of children. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, 77—94.