Strict, Lax, or Flexible Parenting Styles?

photo by abhisek sarda (creative commons)

Popular, popular, popular.
For some reason, this is consistently the most popular post on this blog.  I guess there are a lot of parents out there with questions. Perhaps it’s that parents, lacking a clear sense of what is the “right” way to parent, turn to books. Unfortunately parenting books so often tell you that there is only one way to parent — their way. So this kicks up a lot of anxiety. The truth is parents need to parent in the way that fits the best for their family, without heading toward the extremes. If you grew up in a lax household, you’re not likely to have much luck with being strict — you might — on the other hand, be able to set some boundaries…

With light edits, this is what was posted in July 2007 and May 2008.

(In terms of popularity the post on Bessel Van der Kolk and trauma comes a close second. And I would have thought the post on how to deal with a 3-year-old’s tantrum would have generated more interest.)

Strict, lax, and flexible.
In psychology, we say authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. These terms based on the research of Baumrind (1971). Sharon Jablon, Ph.D., who runs a test prep workshop for the national licensing exam in psychology (EPPP), has a nice summary of these parenting styles, which I’m going to quote from:

Authoritarian parents expect unquestioned obedience, are demanding, controlling, threatening and punishing. [They] tend to be more detached and less warm than other parents. Children exposed to this parenting style are frequently moody, irritable, discontented, withdrawn, distrustful, and aggressive and tend to have more behavior disorders. …This parenting style was termed “conflicted-irritable” and led to children who were also termed “conflicted-irritable”.

Permissive parents value self-expression and self-regulation. [They] are either permissive-indifferent or permissive indulgent.

a) Permissive-indifferent parents set few limits, provide little monitoring, and are generally detached and uninvolved. Their children have poor self-control, are demanding, minimally compliant, and have poor interpersonal skills. [Apparently, Baumrind didn’t have a label for this sub-type of permissive parenting.]

b) Permissive-indulgent parents are loving and emotionally available, yet set few limits, demands or controls. Their children tend to be impulsive, immature, and out of control. …The permissive-indulgent parenting style was termed “impulsive” and led to children who were termed “impulsive-aggressive”.

Authoritative parents (not authoritarian) are caring and emotionally available, yet firm, fair, and reasonable. They set appropriate limits, and provide structure and reasonable expectations. Children with authoritative parents are usually competent, confident, independent, cooperative, and at ease in social situations. …This parenting style was termed “energetic-friendly” and led to children who were termed “energetic-friendly-self-reliant”.

What have you observed?
Safe to say, you have observed or participated in parenting that resembles one of these categories more than the others. Reflect upon your own upbringing. Does one of these fit? Do the outcomes of these parenting styles described fit with your own experience?

Striving to be the parent you want to be.
If you are a parent, do you fall under one of the categories? Most of us would prefer to be to be in the “authoritative” camp. But most of us tend to veer into one of the other styles, if left to our own devices. In other words, some of us struggle with being lax, while others struggle with being strict. This has to do with how we were raised. By default, we raise our kids how we were raised; or, quite often, we raise our kids in reaction to how we were raised. Many of us struggle with being inconsistent, one of the most difficult battles of parenting.

Just another set of labels.
Remember, these are just labels. People love to categorize the world and say, “There, that’s how it is.” When we do this we blind ourselves to other possibilities. Reality is usually much more complicated. Perhaps this scheme does not fit with your own experience. As with any system of thought, take it with a grain of salt. These things have their day, are useful for a time, are often replaced by more useful ways of thinking. Take what you can use. If you’re interested in reading more about this scheme, click here.


Published by


Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

3 thoughts on “Strict, Lax, or Flexible Parenting Styles?”

  1. Hi:
    I thoroughly enjoy your website and the vision the organization seems to have. I’ve been a therapist for over 40 yars and my wife, a nurse, is presently working on her masters in a life/wellness coaching field. I really hope you don’t find the following too (pick one: brazen, chutzpahdik, forward, whatever) but I do believe my recently published book can be helpful to your colleagues and clients. There is a chapter on parenting in it, and parents I’ve worked with found this stuff good for their lives as well. It’s brevity is part of the charm! One reviewer put it this way:
    A practical guide to unleashing willpower aimed at the central questions “what kind of person do I want to be?” Among the topics: relationships, personal belief systems, self-esteem, responsibility, parenting, etc. With GOOD HUMOR and a “keep it simple focus” the author points out that usually we already know what to do but to actually change we need to identify, prioritize, and practice, practice, practice. A great, short, and effective read!
    I welcome and appreciate comments. The book is:
    title: Can’t Find The Willpower? Everything You Should Have Learned Since Kindergarten
    Author: Lew Hamburger, Ph.D.
    Available: on line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble ($12)
    Thanks, I do appreciate your taking the time.
    Warm regards,



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s