What do you call a mother, father, or parent who is very severe in punishing their children or sets very strict curfews for them?

The adjectives that come to mind are "strict", "stern", and "severe".
On the other hand Google Ngram has taught me the following:
For "father": "stern" is the best choice.
For "mother": "strict" sounds best.
And, for "parent(s)": "strict" again sounds best.

These differences made me doubt whether the adjective "stern" works as well as "strict" when used in the combination with nouns like "mother", "father", and "parent(s)". Please let me know what is the most natural word in everyday and written English for the aforementioned nouns?
Are there any better combinations in English?

In my language there is only one word that is used to describe — as strict/severe — nouns like mother, father, and parent.

  • Please don't use ngram this way. Stern may be more common but it doesn't mean the same thing at all.
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 16:22
  • 1
    While I agree with and have upvoted Absolute Beginner's answer, I think one should also keep in mind that there may be gender issues involved with adjectives here. For example, we usually use "pretty" for women (and men who are pretty like a woman) and "handsome" for men (and women who are handsome like a man). Not commenting on the correctness of this or anything, but just something to consider and be aware of when just going off of "the most popular answers" on Ngrams. Commented May 16, 2017 at 11:14

3 Answers 3


Strict is a good choice:

  • strongly limiting someone's freedom to behave as they wish, or likely to severely punish someone if they do not obey:
    • My parents were very strict with me when I was young.

Cambridge Dictionary

From: It is good to be a strict parent:

  • As a child, I always wondered why there are different kind of parents. Every parent has a different kind of attitude towards their children. Some are strict and some are equally opposite in strictness. It is always best to be a strict parent because a child’s mind is always directed to do appropriate things and this prevents child from distracting to wrongdoings.

From: Expository Essay on Why Parents Are Strict:

  • There is a question on whether parents should be strict or not, and how strict they should be. If a parent is strict, many tend to think that such parents are always unfair to their children, but these parents tend to think that the best parents are strict.

Ngram: strict vs stern vs severe parents.


While I do utterly agree with @AbsoluteBeginner's answer I would like to add to his answer that there are two possible interpretations for the word "strict" when speaking about parents.

  1. Rules - A strict parent mostly enforced rules and expects you to obey them. If you don't there might be punishment involved. Mostly such parents try to control you and your life. Such can be very aggressive toward there children.
  2. Demands - A strict (demanding) parent who doesn't enforce rules but makes demands that are an important element of a child's growing up. Mostly there's little to almost no punishment involved. Such parent's don't control you but aid you in your life and help you become a better man.

When we are speaking about "stern" or "severe" we would mostly tend to the 1-st meaning, while with "demanding" we would tend to the 2-nd one. "Strict" is ambiguous here and may mean either of them.

The general word used to speak about either type of parents is "strict" however there are a lot more words to describe specific behavior of parents: bad, difficult, terrible, harsh and abusive.


I would say "Limiting" or "Restrictive", or even "repressive."

You're implying the parents are more limiting than is good for the children. That's more than strict.

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