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4 Parenting Styles and Effective Child Discipline

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Mother sitting on couch with daughter and disciplining her.
How do you get your children to obey, and what should you do when they won't?

There’s no responsible parent on the planet who hasn’t struggled with getting a child to obey, and it can be an excruciating experience. How do you get your children to mind without losing yours? That’s a challenge, and God’s Word has much to say about how we, as parents, can meet that challenge. It shows us how our parenting style can provide the kind of discipline that helps our children fulfill their responsibility. If the most important thing for our children to learn is to obey, what do we do when they won’t?

4 Parenting Styles

First, it’s important to understand how your parenting style may be contributing to the problem, especially in a culture that has made discipline a dirty word. To speak of a parent disciplining a child today evokes images of unreasonable anger and brutal beatings. That’s not biblical discipline. Two case studies — one sociological and the other biblical — show us what appropriate, godly discipline is all about.


Sociologist Reuben Hill conducted a study of thousands of teens and parents in Minnesota. Hill put all of his research on a grid with an x-axis, a y-axis, and four quadrants. The horizontal axis measured how much discipline or control parents exercised in their relationship with their child. The vertical axis measured love. Hill found that different parenting styles produced different responses among children. Below is a summary of Reuben Hill’s research, as presented by Dr. Richard Meier in a seminar on parenting, Minirth-Meier Clinic, Dallas, Texas, 1988.

4 Parenting Styles

The Permissive Parent

The upper left quadrant represents parents who are high in love but low in discipline: the permissive parent. The study revealed that permissive parents tend to produce children with very low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. Though the parents express a lot of love, the lack of boundaries leaves their children with a high level of insecurity. The kids feel loved, but they are never sure of their limits. Their parents are generally fearful and are afraid of messing up and damaging their children’s psyche, so they never set firm boundaries. The kids feel very loved and yet very unsure of themselves.

The Neglectful Parent

The lower left quadrant belongs to the worst of all four combinations: the neglectful parent. This kind of parent doesn’t express much love and also doesn’t really care enough to discipline. Their children tend to grow up with little or no lasting relationship with Mom or Dad. They’re estranged because they feel forsaken. The parents’ neglect may not necessarily be intentional — they may simply be in the midst of their own traumas and chaos, like an addiction or an abusive situation. They don’t purposely desire to neglect their kids, but they don’t know how to deal with their own issues adequately and don’t have the tools to be healthy parents. These children grow up with unbelievably deep emotional scars, and their only hope is to find Christ, be surrounded by godly role models, and get some good Christian counseling.

Navigate family life with grace and love!

Daniel P. Huerta, Focus on the Family's Vice President of Parenting, presents a collection of seven powerful character traits designed to help parents grow and thrive while raising Godly children.

The Authoritarian Parent

The authoritarian parenting style shows up in the lower right quadrant. This kind of parent doesn’t express love and affection well but is very high on discipline. They raise children who are provoked into rebellion. The bar is always high, and the “musts” are always abundant, so there’s a strong sense of safety. But this kind of parent isn’t content to win the war; they have to win every battle. Communication between parent and child takes the form of arguing and fighting, especially when they are old enough to fight back. Authoritarian parents squeeze their kids until the kids can’t wait to leave home, and as soon as they do, they rebel. When Paul told the Ephesians not to overcorrect their children and exasperate them, he warned authoritarians not to raise children who would reject the faith altogether.

The Authoritative Parent

Those who land in the upper right quadrant provide the best combination of love and discipline. This kind of parent is authoritative — not an overbearing authoritarian, but a compassionate yet firm authority. They have clear boundaries but are also very loving. Everyone knows who the boss is, but there’s also a connection between parents and child, a consideration that respects and honors who the child is while not compromising their disciplinary needs. The result is a child high in self-esteem and equipped with good coping skills.

This secular sociological study found that the parent who balances love and discipline without compromising either produces well-adjusted kids who maintain a positive relationship with Mom and Dad. This research, the best available today, affirms parents who express love well and maintain a high degree of control in their home.

Out of these 4 parenting styles, all of us want to be in quadrant four, and most of us probably think we are. But before we move on to our biblical case study, consider these questions: Where do you tend to err? If you had to pick a quadrant other than number four to represent your worst moments as a parent, which would it be? Make a mental note of your answer; it will help you later when we look at our parenting through new lenses.

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Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No parent of teens is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Reconnected: The Digital Experience

Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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