Diana Baumrind Spot-on: Biography, 3 Parenting Styles & Criticism (Spanking)

For years, experts had been giving parents a list of dos and don'ts, but developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind approached parenting from a whole new perspective.

Instead of focusing on specific actions that could harm or help children, Baumrind introduced the idea of parenting styles. And her definition of 3 parenting styles was no less than groundbreaking when she coined them back in the 1960s.

Read all about it here and more too.

In this article on Baumrind, you'll get:

A Quick Intro into Demandingness and Responsiveness

Photo of Diana Baumrind.After much research and observation, Baumrind recognized that it is not just what you do, but how you do it, that impacts your children.

For example, a child who has a "highly responsive" parent will react differently to discipline or correction than a child who is raised in a "highly demanding" home.

In this case, it is not the discipline itself that is the issue, but the approach, manner - or style - with which it is delivered.

Previously, many parenting experts had been suggesting that children should be given very rigid rules with high levels of expectation for compliance. In other words, children should obey without argument and do whatever they are told.

Those who disagreed with this theory, proposed the opposite - respond immediately to children's needs and give love and approval unconditionally. However, this approach was often misunderstood and criticized for being too permissive or indulgent.

Scale showing the premises for Baumrind's parenting styles: demandingness vs. responsiveness.In This Pendulum of Theories,
Diana Baumrind Proposed a Balance of Ideas

Baumrind suggested that "good" parenting should not be one or the other, but rather the ideal balance of both "responsiveness" and "demandingness". It was a compromise of sorts, a "meet in the middle" concept that attempted to take the best of both worlds and create the perfect parenting style.

Baumrind's 3 parenting styles inspired a lot of future research that eventually resulted in a fourth style (the uninvolved parent) being added in 1983.

Now, nearly five decades later, she is still considered to be one of the most influential contributors in the field of parenting.

The Diana Baumrind Biography

Diana Baumrind was born on August 23, 1927, the oldest of two daughters in a middle class family living in one of New York's small Jewish neighborhoods.

She earned a B.A. of psychology and philosophy from Hunter College in 1948, and went on to complete both a Masters Degree and PhD in clinical and developmental psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

After a postdoctoral residency at Cowell Hospital in Berkeley, Diana took a position as a research psychologist at the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkeley.

Her Parenting Styles Theory Sees the Light of Day

In 1966, she published her now famous article on parenting styles. This was followed by another article in 1967 that examined the effects of these styles on child development.

Spokesman for Higher Research Ethics

Baumrind is also well-known for her work in the area of research ethics. She argues that misrepresentation and deception should be minimized in research studies and that subjects should be informed about what to expect.

She believes that, for the sake of results, honesty is too often compromised and many people do not really know why they are being observed or what risks may be involved when they agree to be part of a research group.

Still Going Strong

Although she is in her 80s, Diana still remains very active in the field of parenting, heading the Family Socialization Project at IHD, sitting on the editorial board for the international journal Parenting: Science and Practice, and acting as a consultant for the Task Force on Corporal Punishment for the American Psychological Association.

Baumrind's Theories and Contributions

Since the 1960s, Diana Baumrind has been very influential in the field of parenting.

Her theories resulted in many research studies and articles that have changed the way parents view the role they play in their children's lives.

She has consulted on many projects throughout her career, but she is most famous for the following contributions:

  • Introduction of the 3 Parenting Styles
  • Views on physical/corporal punishment
  • Criticizing and encouraging the changing of research practices

Baumrind's 3 Parenting Styles

Even if you have never heard the name Diana Baumrind, you might know about the "three parenting styles".

Every parent, at some point, questions whether they are being "too demanding" or "too permissive". They wonder if they are showing enough love and affection while still setting reasonable boundaries and teaching self-regulation.

Well, the idea of being "too strict" or "too lenient" is actually a concept that comes from Baumrind's theories. She proposed that there are three parenting styles, and that each style leads to specific outcomes.

Basically, Diana States that Parenting Is a Combination of Two Factors:

  • Responsiveness - how well parents respond to their children's needs

  • Demandingness - the level of maturity or responsibility parents expect from their children at different points of development

The parenting styles are really based on various combinations of these factors.

In other words, how responsive or how demanding you are will determine which category applies to your parenting approach - you can take my test here.

  • Authoritarian - high level of demandingness with a low level of responsiveness. This type of parenting is very rigid, behavior-based, and controlling. Children raised in strict authoritarian homes tend to be anxious, withdrawn, and feel like they have to earn love or approval.

  • Permissive - low level of demandingness with a high level of responsiveness. Baumrind states that this style of parenting is very indulgent and lacks rules or boundaries. According to Baumrind, children raised in a permissive environment risk becoming rebellious, defiant, selfish, and have poor emotional regulation.

  • Authoritative - a balance of demandingness and responsiveness. According to Baumrind, this is the ideal form of parenting. Parents are responsive to their children, but still provide some guidelines for expected behavior. The authoritative parents will not only set standards for their children, but will also model this behavior themselves.

Basically, Diana Baumrind is saying that the authoritarian style is "too hard", the permissive style is "too soft", and the authoritative is "just right".

Here is a video that in a few explains Diana Baumrind's parenting styles:


Criticism of Baumrind's Parenting Styles

Is Showing Unconditional Love Really Permissiveness?Showing unconditional love in parenting can never backfire. Originial painting by Mary Cassat.

While there is a lot of research to support Baumrind's ideas, many parenting experts have questioned her emphasis on the need for firm (not rigid) rules and controls.

Baumrind argues that the proper use of disapproval, balanced with love and affection, is what is best for children.

However, there are those within the field of parenting (e.g. Alfie Kohn), that believe "disapproval" is a form of "love withdrawal" and can actually have a negative impact on development.

Also, when considering popular theories such as those promoted by Benjamin Spock or Alfie Kohn, one has to ask if "high responsiveness" without "high demandingness" really is synonymous with "permissiveness"?

That is what Baumrind implies.

But, a lot of research has shown that focusing primarily on meeting children's needs produces well-adjusted, self-confident children who don't need external controls.

The Addition of a Fourth Parenting Style to Complete the Model

In 1983, researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin felt that Diana Baumrind's theory was incomplete and introduced a fourth parenting style - the uninvolved parent.

These parents are neither demanding nor responsive. Basically, they don't care. And, children of uninvolved parents often "act out" or become involved in deviant behaviors in an effort to get their parents' attention.

Baumrind on Physical Punishment

Baumrind has been the cause of a lot of controversy because of her stance on physical or corporal punishment.

Baumrind's Conviction: Authoritative Spanking Doesn't Harm the Child

Diana Baumrind supports the occasional use of spanking as a form of discipline and states that her research has shown no negative long-term impact on children if the punishment is delivered within an authoritative style where the child does not perceive the action as harsh or cruel.

She also states that abusive parents are typically authoritarian, although not all authoritarian style parents are abusive.

But, this stance continues to be a controversy within the parenting field.

Experts Disagree: Treating 'Bad' with 'Bad' Doesn't Work

Many researchers disagree vehemently with Baumrind (and many countries have also banned physical punishment both in school and at home).

They claim that the more a parent uses physical punishment the greater the likelihood of this punishment escalating to abuse.

Some experts also believe that punishing a child using physical aggression will encourage them to become more physically aggressive themselves.

And the bottom line is - does it make sense?

Isn't spanking a child for something such as throwing a toy at a friend, biting, or hitting another child an oxymoron? ... I'm going to hit you to teach you that hitting is wrong? Even as an adult, that makes no sense, so how can we expect our children to understand?

Baumrind's View on Research Ethics - More of Honesty Towards the Subjects

Baumrind has had great influence in the area of research ethics, which began with her strong response to Stanley Milgrim's 1963 Study of Obedience.

Milgrim told his study subjects that he was conducting research on the relationship between punishment and learning when, in fact, he was actually testing people's compliance to authority to determine how far someone would be willing to go for the sake of obedience.

Baumrind disagreed with the deception, claiming that Milgrim created high levels of stress in the subjects, and failed to show respect or concern for participant's welfare.

She believed that once the truth was revealed, many subjects would feel used, embarrassed, and distrustful of authority in the future.

Basically, she felt that the relationship between the researcher and the subjects had been violated.

In response to her criticism, many researchers claimed that a certain amount of deception is necessary to get accurate results.

For example, parents are going to be on their "best behavior" if they know that they are being observed. Or, an adolescent is not likely to engage in deviant behavior if a police officer is within sight.

Despite a continuing argument, Baumrind has been influential in changing the way much research is done and in making sure that subjects are treated less like lab rats and more like human beings.

Books and Articles by Baumrind

As a researcher, Baumrind has written many journal articles and book chapters on parenting styles, family socialization, moral development, adolescence, and research ethics.

Much of her work is very "clinical", meaning that it is written for other experts and researchers within the field of psychology.

However, some of her writings have become quite famous and can be very informative, even for parents who don't necessarily agree with her viewpoints.


Effect of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior (1966)
Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior (1967)

These two articles earned Baumrind recognition within the field of parenting.

They introduced the three parenting styles and examined the effects that these child-rearing practices have on behavior.

These articles outline a very detailed study contrasting self-reliant, mature, trusting, and content children with those who were distrustful, unhappy, immature, and dependent.

By observing the various parenting styles, Baumrind looked at the relationship between development and parental control. Factors discussed included punishment, authority, freedom and autonomy, self-regulation, and fear.

The article concludes with the observation that the authoritative parenting style is the perfect balance and the best approach for both the parents and children.


Child Maltreatment and Optimal Caregiving in Social Contexts

This article summarizes a study that looked at the relationship between income level and child abuse or maltreatment.

Baumrind observed several families, taking into account finances, maternal youth, marital status, foster care, and personality.

The article also covers the psychological characteristics of abusive parents, although much of her research concludes that poverty is the strongest determining factor for maltreatment.


Parenting for Character: Five Experts, Five Practices

This is a book about raising "good kids", with the definition of "good" being empathetic, altruistic, moral, competent, and having strong consciences.

Five parenting experts have taken all their years of research and knowledge and put it together to make a manual that parents can use to help "maximize their children's potential" for becoming self-confident, fair, and giving individuals.

Diana Baumrind has contributed a chapter on authoritative parenting and how this method can lead to character and competence in children.


The Influence of Parenting Style on Adolescent Competence and Substance Use

This article is the summary of a study involving 139 children who were observed at ages 4, 10, and 15 to determine the effects of parenting styles on their development, particularly the likelihood of substance use.

Various family types were included - authoritative, democratic, directive, non-directive, unengaged - and it was found that children from authoritative and democratic homes were more mature, optimistic, and had more positive attitudes about their parents.

These children were also less likely to become involved in deviant behavior such as alcohol or drug use.


The Discipline Controversy Revisited

In this article, Baumrind readdresses her earlier views on physical discipline. Again, she states that one extreme or the other is not beneficial.

A parenting approach that uses strict corporal punishment can lead to as many problems as one that includes indulgent permissiveness.

Her solution?

Balance is the best!:

  • "It is argued here that within a responsive and supportive parent-child relationship, prudent use of punishment is a necessary tool in the disciplinary encounter." (Quote by Diana Baumrind)

Baumrind takes into account historical and cultural factors, as well as family situations and stages of development.

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