Diana Baumrind Theory Explained


Diana Baumrind created what is known as the Pillar Theory. She developed this theory based on her observations of behavior from children and how their parents influenced that behavior. Based on those observations, she came to the conclusion that there are 3 specific parenting styles which parents use with children.

• Authoritarian Style.
• Permissive Style.
• Authoritative Style.

Baumrind suggests that children need to have a certain structure in their relationship with parents, but they also need a certain level of warmth, love, and permissiveness. Children tend to make better decisions when they know there are lines not to cross, but are still given the freedom to make their own choice.

That creates what is effectively a “Goldilocks Zone” of parent-child interaction that can produce the best possible results.

What Is Authoritarian Parenting?

An authoritarian parenting style uses rigid rules and creates a demanding environment for the child. Parents using this style tend to be strict. There is an expectation that the orders of a parent be obeyed without question. The environment is almost military like, with the parent being the commanding officer.

This parenting style offers low levels of responsiveness or warmth. Consequences that are enforced by these parents tend to withhold affection and love as a way to communicate that the child has done something wrong.

If you’ve ever heard a parent use a phrase like, “Because I said so,” or “Because I told you to do it,” then this is usually an example of authoritarian parenting. Children in this type of relationship tend to behave until the parent leaves the room and develop a follower mentality.

What Is Permissive Parenting?

Permissive parenting is the complete opposite of authoritarian parenting. Parents using this style are not strict with rule enforcement at all. These parents respond to the needs of a child without regard to rules or consequences. Children who engage with this parenting style experience their parents providing what they want, whenever they want it. Guidelines and limits are rarely imposed.

With the authoritarian style, parents see themselves as being in charge. With the permissive style, parents do not usually see themselves or portray themselves as being an authority figure.

Anxiety is a common outcome from this parenting style. The child feels like they have to be the parent sometimes, but they don’t know how to set boundaries or understand expectations. That means they struggle to persevere and there is often a greater risk of the child engaging in unhealthy or illegal behavior as they reach adulthood.

What Is Authoritative Parenting?

In the Diana Baumrind theory, authoritative parenting is the style that is highly recommended. It incorporates structure by imposing and enforcing rules and expectations, but allows the parent to change the rules or their expectations if the needs of the child require such a change. There is an expectation for children to behave, but the parents also respond with care and love, being responsive to legitimate needs a child may have.

Authoritative parents enforce consequences when rules are broken, but will also engage with their children so there is an understanding of how the choice was “wrong.” This provides a teaching moment for the child so they can make their own corrections instead of being dictated into a specific set of behaviors.

Sometimes There are 4 Parenting Styles Listed… Why is That?

Baumrind’s theory is often listed with 4 parenting styles instead of the original three when discussed today. That is because a fourth style was added in the 1980s by others who studied her theory extensively. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, researchers recognized that for authoritative parents, there was a subset of parent-child relationships that were abusive and neglectful.

This would become the fourth parenting style. Neglectful parenting involves authoritative parents who rarely interact with their children. They will either place limits on their children that are impossible to meet or place zero limits on the behavior of the child and then fail to meet their needs.

Any parent-child relationship can devolve into the negative parenting style, but most of them tend to come from the authoritarian style. Not every authoritarian parent is abusive or neglectful, but it does create the highest risk of turning into a negative relationship.

Neglectful parents often leave the child to the business of raising themselves without establishing a formal relationship.

Most parents, unless they specifically choose to do something different, tend to duplicate the parenting styles that they experienced as a child. There are also parents who decide to do the complete opposite of what they experienced as a child.

By recognizing these styles, parents can move toward the authoritative style and its benefits. With the Diana Baumrind theory, it is never too late to make changes.