The three parenting styles

Although every parent or caregiver is unique, there are three general styles of parenting.

The rock

The rock or ‘authoritarian’ style of parenting is mostly hard and inflexible involving strict rules, and a focus on unquestioning obedience and harsh punishment.
Parents often take this approach because they feel they need to be tough on their kids for them to learn important family values and to succeed in life. 
But the downside of the rock style is that children can grow up to:

  • be less independent and lacking in self-confidence
  • be more easily influenced by their peers
  • have lower self-esteem
  • be more anxious and feel they’re only loved if they behave in the way their parent wants
  • reject their parents and their values when they hit teenage years.

The tree

The tree-or ‘authoritative’ style uses a firm and fair approach. Limits are set in advance and stuck to – but can be discussed with kids and adjusted over time. 'Tree' parents listen to their children’s views and respond to their needs. These parents set clear expectations, have reasonable and related consequences, and praise good behaviour.

The upside of this parenting style is kids are more likely to grow up to:

  • be self-motivated 
  • have good self-esteem
  • know what they want and how to get it
  • respect others.

The paper

'Paper' or ‘permissive’ style parents tend to give in to kids' demands to keep the peace, and like to rescue their kids from anything unpleasant. They’re also known as ‘jellyfish’ or helicopter parents.
Parents may take the ‘paper’ approach because they don’t want to be 'rocks' (especially if that’s how they were parented and they want their kids to have a happier childhood than they did).
The downside of the paper style is that children may be:

  • less able to deal with frustration
  • insecure and overly dependent
  • slower to develop problem-solving ability and persistence
  • less confident in making decisions
  • less considerate and more likely to blame others for their problems

Are you a mixture?

Most people use a mixture of the three styles, depending on how they’re feeling. For example if you’re particularly stressed out, you might be tougher on your kids because you feel like you need to be in control. Or if you’re exhausted, you might let things slide a bit. Somewhere in between is what works best for kids. Being flexible but staying consistent about what's important.

Here are ten tips for a firm and fair (tree) approach:

  • Give lots of affection and positive attention. 
  • Try to do something they like with them every day. 
  • Catch them being good and give them lots of praise. 
  • Agree on a small number of rules and stick to them. 
  • Give plenty of warning so they know what is coming next. 
  • Have reasonable and related consequences when rules are broken. For example if they hit their sister, they have to play on their own for a bit. 
  • Every child is different. Think about your children and the different things that upset or challenge them. 
  • Behave how you want them to behave. They will learn more from what you do than what you say. 
  • Ask them what they think and give them simple choices. For example the red or the blue t-shirt? If you ask them whch one to wear, they'll choose the one in the wash. 
  • Have a routine but expect some days it won't work. 

We saw early on that our different ways of parenting our son really affected his behaviour. We agreed to be more consistent, more united and we've never looked back. 

Parents talk about their styles

Answer the questions below and find out the type of parenting style best describes you.