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Early Childhood Emotional and Social Development: Social Connections Continued

Angela Oswalt, MSW

The most important factor for young children is not the structure of the family itself, but the presence of caregivers who are dedicated to caring for their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social needs by providing a loving and nurturing home. One important way caregivers can show loving and consistent support is by laying a foundation for parenting and disciplining that will carry through children's teenage years.

angry mother scolding young sonThere are three main styles of parenting that caregivers tend to use with their children: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. Sometimes, caregivers purposefully choose to use one particular form of parenting. Other times, caregivers who were raised with a specific parenting style offer the same one to their own children because it seems familiar and/or comfortable.

In authoritarian parenting, caregivers create expectations and rules, and children are expected to understand and to follow those rules absolutely. According to authoritarian parents, "What I say, goes!" Often, this parenting style uses physical or corporal (e.g., body) punishments such as spankings, to remind children of the rules they must follow and to prevent them from breaking the rules in the future. Such parents provide children very strict limits and not much freedom.

Permissive caregivers have loose expectations and rules for their children, sometimes in the hopes of creating free-thinkers or children who feel comfortable approaching their caregivers as friends and confidants. A permissive parenting style is also used when parents do not have the physical or emotional ability or energy to enforce the rules consistently. Often, discipline is lax, and children are given lots of freedom with limited boundaries.

Authoritative parenting combines positive aspects of two previously mentioned styles. Authoritative caregivers provide children some freedom within appropriate boundaries. Caregivers teach their children about family and societal expectations and rules. Rules are consistently reinforced through discipline practices that connect children's good and bad decisions with consequences and accomplishments. In this parenting style, children understand that parents make the rules and guide the house, but children also begin to understand how to anticipate and judge the consequences of their actions. This skill is important as children leave home and become adults.