Baumrind Theory Explained


Diana Baumrind developed what she would call the Pillar Theory in the 1960s after earning her doctorate in psychology from UC-Berkeley. The theory draws a relationship between the style of parenting that is offered in a home and the behavior of the children being parented. In the Baumrind Theory, there are three distinct parenting styles which are discussed.

What Are the 3 Parenting Styles of the Baumrind Theory?

  • Authoritarian parenting is demanding, rigid, and strict. Parents who utilize this parenting style expect their orders to be obeyed at all times. A rule should be followed without question. Although almost all abusive parents fall into this category, the Baumrind theory doesn’t suggest that all authoritarian parents are abusive. There tends to be low levels of responsiveness to children with this parenting style because the household is focused on structure.
  • Permissive parenting is the opposite of authoritarian parenting. This style is very responsive to a child’s needs and rarely enforces rules. Guidelines are not imposed on the children in most circumstances. These parents are seen as loving and warm, but there tends to be a lack of overall accountability in the relationship. Permissive parents rarely see themselves as an authority figure.
  • Authoritative parenting combines the best of both authoritarian and permissive parenting together into a unique style. There are rules to be followed and parents are in authority, but responses are also based on being loving and caring. Rewards and punishments may be part of the relationship, but authoritative parents tend to discuss decisions and how feelings connect to behaviors so that the children can learn from their mistakes going forward.

Although it is sometimes attributed to Baumrind, in 1983 E.E. Maccoby and J.A. Martin published a piece called “Socialization in the context of the family: Parent-child interaction.” This piece expanded upon the three parenting styles that were first offered by Baumrind. The permissive parenting category was split into two styles instead of just one.

The first is the indulgent parent. In this parent-child relationship, there are few limits set, if any, and that includes the safety of the child. There are rarely any demands placed on a child to be mature or strive to perform better. Indulgent parents rarely offer a consequence for negative behaviors as well. This often results in children who struggle with impulse control.

The second option in the permissive category is the uninvolved parent. Some versions of the Baumrind theory place this option as a fourth category called “neglectful.” This parent-child relationship has the same characteristics of the indulgent parent, with the exception that no love or warmth is shown in the relationship. In extreme cases, this parenting style can even reject the child. Children from this situation tend to have lower levels of functioning and a higher risk of delinquency.

Spanking Within the Baumrind Theory

In addition to the development of the parenting styles, Baumrind studied the effects of corporal punishment being used on children. She came to the conclusion that only authoritative parents would be able to experience outcomes from spanking that did not have a “significant detrimental effect” on the child.

Certain factors would also need to be controlled for spanking to be effective. For example: spanking tends to occur in households that have a low-income status. Many are in a socioeconomic status that is associated with poverty. When controlling for these factors, Baumrind believed that mild corporal punishment may not increase the likelihood of a poor outcome.

It is this conclusion that has drawn the most criticism regarding the Baumrind theory. The actual parenting styles that are presented are generally accepted.

The 4 Basic Elements of Successful Parenting

Baumrind discovered that there were 4 basic elements that contributed to the formation of a successful parenting relationship. Parents had to evaluate responsiveness vs being unresponsive and being demanding vs an undemanding approach. Each parent evaluates every interaction with their children using some degree of all four elements.

That meant parents shouldn’t be “aloof,” but they should not be punitive either. Baumrind found that the most successful parents needed to develop rules for children to follow while having the courage to be affectionate with them regularly. Any inconsistencies or negative communication, such as setting a vague rule or being reactive instead of proactive, could alter the parent-child relationship.

Families tend to create behavioral cycles because how children were parented becomes how they decide to parent when given the opportunity. By recognizing the styles of parenting, the Baumrind theory suggests that parenting can also be a choice. That means a cycle of negative parenting can be potentially broken.