STILLWATER, Okla. – No child comes with an owner’s manual. But, there is evidence that raising happy, healthy, successful kids has a lot to do with the way parents approach their role.

Multiple studies show that parenting style can influence a range of important factors in a child’s development – everything from obesity to cognitive ability. More specifically, that data points to authoritative parents – those who are responsive to their children’s needs, show genuine affection and set high expectations and limits – often being the most effective child rearers. The style tends to work across racial and ethnic groups.

“Authoritative parents are more likely to have children who do well on cognitive tasks, have high self-confidence and social competence, and fewer behavioral problems,” said Laura Hubbs-Tait, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension parenting specialist.

In comparing the other three most widely recognized parenting styles, Hubbs-Tait said permissive parents are highly responsive, but low on demandingness, while authoritarian parents tend to be low on responsiveness, but high on demandingness. Uninvolved parents are neither responsive nor demanding.

As positive an effect as authoritative parenting seems to have on children, uninvolved and permissive parenting generally produces the opposite results. Even as far back as the 1950s and 1960s, Hubbs-Tait said there were clear links between less demanding, more permissive parenting and child aggression or truancy and substance use and abuse in adolescents.

“As a parent, if you don’t have high expectations for your child, then the expectations of a teacher aren’t going to be very well received by the child,” she said. “If there are no limits and demands in a child’s life, you can easily see how this would translate to difficulties in meeting adult life and work obligations.”

Regardless of the style a parent uses, it is not situational. In other words, a mother would not be permissive one week and authoritative the next, Hubbs-Tait said. Rather, the styles are assumed to be more on par with a parent’s other fixed traits.

“Authoritative parents don’t mind setting firm limits and having high expectations. In contrast, if you really have a lot of trouble saying no to your child, you might be permissive,” she said. “Parents who have trouble both saying no and being warm or enthusiastic are more likely to be uninvolved, whereas if you always say ‘do it because I said so,’ you might fit in the authoritarian style.”

All is not lost, though, for parents who are willing and want to modify their style toward being more authoritative.

“While the research is consistent in assuming parenting styles are hard to change, there are a number of parenting education programs that are finding success in helping mothers and fathers enhance their parenting skills,” Hubbs-Tait said.

Some counties in the state already are implementing parenting education programs through local Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offices, and Tulsa County is taking the lead in the Spanish-speaking community by currently offering parenting classes in that language. Hubbs-Tait, who expects more counties to launch similar classes in the coming months, encouraged families to contact their local Extension office for more information.

Getting the type of support and guidance a program can offer is critical for those who want to change and enhance their parenting skills, Hubbs-Tait said, because anytime a family gets used to one system, changing the rules is hard.

“When a parent tries to change the family’s routine, it’s going to be unfamiliar to the child, and often, the child will resist. There are all kinds of pressures against changing a system once it has been established,” she said. “This is where parent education programs become invaluable in terms of giving parents support.”  


Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating: The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer. 

Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
140 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: [email protected]

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