How to Identify the Four Parenting Styles

There are four parenting styles that define the way parents deal with their children's emotions. Many parents have a dominant style and some elements of other styles. How you react to your child's emotions is often a factor of how comfortable you are with your own emotions. Knowing the types of parenting styles and their strengths and drawbacks can prevent you from causing your child unintended emotional harm.

The Dismissive Parent
The parent who is not comfortable with emotions tends to have a dismissive attitude toward a child's emotions. This parent typically has a "get over it" attitude. While this can teach a child to let bothersome things roll off his back, too much of this can cause the child to have behavior problems, difficulty with friendships, lower grades in school and health problems in some cases.

The dismissive parent simply brushes emotions aside, rather that than deal with them. Emotions are usually ignored because parents fear or neglect their own emotions. A dismissive parent may have questions such as:

  • Why is my child sad?
  • Is something wrong with my child?
  • Will it be damaging to my child if I allow him or her to feel anger, fear or sadness?
  • Did I do something wrong?
  • How long will this last?
  • Can I change this feeling my child has? How?

Parents that dismiss emotion often suggest that sadness is not cause for concern, or that a child shouldn't be sad so the child's emotion should not be trusted. Children learn to imitate these dismissive patterns, which can cause them to ignore their emotions.

The Disapproving Parent
The disapproving parent often tells a child she should not feel the way she feels. If a child is sad or upset and is crying or about to cry, a disapproving parent will tell the child to stop crying. If the child continues to cry, the parent may go so far as to tell the child to stop crying or she will be in trouble.

Not only is the child upset or angry over something, but now she is in trouble for having these feelings. The child is going to be punished even though she did nothing wrong. Disapproving parents see emotion as a choice. You choose to feel a certain way and you can choose to feel otherwise. Emotions are seen as a negative.

This sends the message that children should not express sadness or anger. This does not help the child, as the cause of the child's feelings has not been determined, and never will be. 

Children who grow up with disapproving parents may have a hard time trusting their own judgment, think something is wrong when they have negative emotions, feel alone, have low self-esteem and have trouble dealing with their emotions. They may lack problem-solving skills and have difficulty with concentrating, team work and learning. These children can also build up tremendous frustration toward their parents that harms the parent-child relationship during the adult years.

The Laissez-Faire Parent
Laissez-faire loosely translates from French to "leave something alone." The laissez-faire parent rolls with a child's emotions. If the child experiences negative emotions, the parent expresses concern for the child and lets him know that he is loved. This is a good style of parenting because the parent shows concern for the child and acknowledges the emotions. On the down side, the parent does not help the child understand his emotions. 

Laissez-faire parents feel that setting limits on the child's behavior sends the wrong message. Parents think that a child's love depends on whether the child is good, rather than what the child feels.

In addition to expressing concern over negative emotions, a parent must accept the emotions and try to explain them to the child. A child who is the product of a laissez-faire upbringing may lack the ability to calm down, may have a hard time concentrating or learning new concepts and ideas and may act out in anger toward others. Some children find it more difficult to pick up on certain social cues, making it more difficult to make friends.

The Emotion-Coaching Parent
This fourth style of parenting is the best, as it nurtures the child's emotional development. The emotion-coaching parent shares the feelings the child is experiencing and sees emotions as a normal part of life. Children learn to trust their own emotions and find positive ways to deal with them. Children who can deal with emotions in a positive way tend to do better in school and have better relationships with others. They also tend to recover quickly from strong emotional events.

An emotion-coaching parent is aware of the child's emotions, recognizes emotional times as opportunities for intimacy and teaching, listens to the child and validates her feelings. This parent then helps the child understand her emotions and sets limits for expression while helping the child solve the problem. 

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