How to Manage Different Parenting Styles
We’ve all heard of helicopter parents who overprotect their children and tiger parents who push their children to succeed, but the original parenting styles were introduced by clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind in 1966.
Baumrind classified parenting styles into three categories distinguished by parents’ levels of responsiveness to children’s needs and their demandingness (Baumrind, 1966). The three parenting styles are:
- Permissive parenting: These parents are responsive but not demanding.
- Authoritative parenting: This parenting style is both responsive and demanding.
- Authoritarian parenting: This style is demanding but not responsive.
A fourth style - known as uninvolved or neglectful parenting - was later added (Maccoby & Martin, 1983), but it is uncommon and leads to significant negative outcomes for children.
Baumrind’s work has inspired decades of research into parenting styles and how they affect children’s mental health and behaviour. Authoritative parenting has been shown to have the best outcomes for children - they have low levels of behaviour problems (Sangawi et al., 2015) and girls who have authoritative mothers have higher levels of self-esteem and lower psychological problems (Szkody et al., 2020).
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But what happens when parents have different parenting styles? Educational and Developmental Psychologist Dr Kimberley O’Brien says that problems can arise when one parent is authoritarian and the other tries to compensate by being permissive.
“Children are often the first to recognise differences in parenting styles and they’re more likely to align themselves with the most permissive parent, leading to power struggles between parents”.
Dr Kimberley has four tips for parents who frequently disagree on how to raise their children.
Avoid disagreeing in front of your children
Children may not only be confused when they receive mixed messages from their parents, they’re also likely to push boundaries because the boundaries are unclear. Try to have your disagreements behind closed doors.
“Children are always attuned to changes in their parent’s voice tone, facial expressions and body language. For best results, parents should talk to a child psychologist to navigate their different parenting style. It’s easier to find middle ground when parents are in a clinical context.”
Work out your values
“Some rules will be non-negotiable, depending on what is most important to each parent. Children can adapt to different parenting styles when they are clear on each parent’s expectations.”
Once you’ve established your family values and rules, call a family meeting to discuss them clearly and calmly with your children. Then, do your best to stick to those rules and back each other up even if you don’t always see eye to eye.
Communicate and compromise
Even if you have a clear plan, there will likely be hiccups along the way. If you feel frustrated with the way your partner handled a situation, set aside some time to discuss it calmly together. Try to arrive at a compromise and agree about how to handle similar situations in the future.
“I encourage parents to choose a “Behaviour Of The Week”and a consistent way to manage it. When there is a targeted approach to improving consistency between parents, it gives children greater focus and a better chance of success.”
Seek professional help
If you can’t seem to agree despite your best efforts, talking to a child psychologist can help. They will provide you with evidence-based strategies to manage your children’s behaviour in positive and constructive ways.
“I like to hear from the children first to find out where parents are being inconsistent. Most parents disagree on some aspects of child rearing, but an experienced child psychologist won’t take sides - I prefer to make light of the situation and present a range of options”.
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View article references
Baumrinf, D. (n.d.). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior, Child Development, 37(4), 887-907. Child Development,, 887-907.
Maccoby,\, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (n.d.). Socialization in the context of the family: parent-child interaction . Handbook of child psychology : formerly Carmichael's Manual of child psychology, 1-101.
Sangawi, H., Adams, J., & Reissland, N. (2015). The Effects of Parenting Styles on Behavioral Problems in Primary School Children: A Cross-Cultural Review. Asian Social Science, 11(22). 10.5539/ass.v11n22p171
Szkody, E., Steele, E. H., & McKinney, C. (2020). Effects of Parenting Styles on Psychological Problems by Self Esteem and Gender Differences. Journal of Family Issues, 42(9), 1931-1954. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X20958445