Parenting is not an exact science. Every child exhibits different personality traits and behaviors and every parent has a different style of parenting. Some parents are controlling and hover over their child’s every move while others will try to be more of a friend than a parent. What is the best parenting style for you?
Authoritative parenting is one of the best parenting styles. It’s all about setting reasonable expectations for children while providing a loving environment. These parents are warm and nurturing; they listen to their children. When discipline is necessary, authoritative parents will do it, but in a fair and positive way. This helps their children learn, grow, and be successful.
In this article, we’ll examine the characteristics of authoritative parenting, comparing it with other parenting styles. We’ll also provide you with ways to use this parenting style within your own home. Are you unsure if authoritative parenting is right for you? This article will help you master the technique so you and your children can be successful.
What is Authoritative Parenting?
Authoritative parenting is a parenting style featuring reasonable demands and high responsiveness. Parents make sure their children have the support necessary for their success. At the same time, they set clear rules and limitations for their kids. They’ll also consistently enforce boundaries and use fair discipline.
This style of parenting is often referred to as democratic parenting. It involves setting high expectations for children while maintaining a kid-centric approach. That’s why authoritative parenting is sometimes referred to as the most helpful and effective for kids.
Parents will maintain a balance between expectations and nurturing. Research suggests parents should be flexible in their style of parenting. This should be based on the unique behaviors of the child and the parents' personal goals.
A Brief History of Different Parenting Styles
The established concept of different parenting styles dates back decades. In 1967, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind studied parenting styles with preschool-aged children. Baumrind noticed the children behaved differently as a result of certain parenting styles. After extensive analysis, interviews, and observation, Baumrind established three different initial parenting styles. These were authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive parenting.
Maccoby and Martin expanded upon Baumrind’s parenting style model in the 1980s. They used a two-dimensional framework involving both demands and responsiveness. They also built upon Baumrind’s concept of permissive parenting. This redefined permissive parenting as indulgent parenting. It also established neglectful parenting from parts of Baumrind's permissive parenting. These are referred to as the Baumrind or Maccoby and Martin parenting styles.
A Quick Breakdown of Authoritarian, Permissive, and Neglectful Parenting
Authoritarian parenting is a parenting style featuring high demands and low responsiveness. These parents set very high standards for their children.
Parents in this vein can be cold and aloof from their children's emotional needs. Authoritarian parents act as the authority and demand blind obedience from their children. They are controlling and tend to think their kids breaking rules is out of defiance.
Permissive parenting is a parenting style featuring low demands and high responsiveness. Parents set little to no standards for their children.
These parents are very responsive to their children's emotional needs. Permissive parents are usually quite loving and nurturing as well. They fail to set and enforce rules within their household. That’s because permissive parents don’t expect their children to behave and often act more like a friend than a parent.
Neglectful parenting is a parenting style featuring low demands and low responsiveness. Parents fail to set any standards or boundaries for their children.
These parents are indifferent to the emotional needs of their children. They are largely uninvolved with their lives in any meaningful way. Neglectful parents may have their own emotional issues. These include some form of abuse from their own childhood and even depression.
Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Parenting
Authoritative parenting is a balance between having high expectations while being emotionally available. These characteristics can be easily contrasted with those of authoritarian parenting. This sets exceedingly high expectations while showing very little guidance and warmth.
The following are some common characteristics authoritative parents use:
- Listening to their children
- Fostering reasoning and independence
- Placing expectations, limits, and consequences on their children’s behavior
- Administering consistent and fair discipline when rules are broken
- Allowing their kids to openly express their opinions
- Encouraging their children to discuss options in a situation
- Expressing nurturing, warmth, and love
By comparison, here are some common characteristics authoritarian parents use:
- Implementing punishments with no explanation
- Lacking patience for even the slightest misbehavior
- Failure to express nurturing, warmth, or love
- Failing to trust their children to make any good decisions
- Giving their kids no options or choices in a situation
- Being unwilling to negotiate with their children in any way
The Traits of an Authoritative Parent
Successful authoritative parenting walks a fine line between being too controlling and too relaxed. It’s not an “either-or” parenting style, which is the idea that parents either have their children’s obedience or they walk all over their authority.
Being an authoritative parent falls between two extremes. This middle ground helps parents achieve the best results.
Here are some common traits of authoritative parents.
Demanding (Not Overbearing)
Authoritative parents set high standards and clear rules in the household to keep their children’s behavior in check. Expectations are defined at all times and boundaries are set between what is acceptable and what is not. Children of authoritative parents always know what is expected of them in school and at home.
Parents have to be responsive to the needs of their children. Regulating emotions helps parents to lay the foundation for the success of their kids. This will also help the children develop the skills needed to regulate their own emotions and develop into mature, well-adjusted young adults. Overall, being responsive shows children their parents care and want to be there to support them.
Authoritative parents are supportive of their children. They keep themselves involved in their children’s life at school in different ways. This could range from chaperoning field trips to monitoring homework. Parents being actively involved in their children’s schooling can be beneficial to their success.
Parents who act authoritatively are collaborative and open-minded when it comes to their children. They communicate openly using reasoning and explanations to help their kids. This aids in fostering the child’s sense of individuality. Parents modeling this behavior teach their children to grow up with good social skills.
Despite the high standards set by authoritative parents, punitive punishments are not used as discipline. Non-punitive or positive discipline is a form of raising children that doesn’t involve punishments. Time-out sessions like being sent to their room or being made to sit in the corner can be seen by children as a form of humiliation or banishment. Non-punitive discipline helps promote honesty in kids and prevents aggression. Authoritative parents are firm in their discipline, but kind and supportive. They can be strict, but they are never mean-spirited.
Parents who are authoritative are sensitive and attuned to their children’s emotional needs. Research has shown the children of nurturing parents can develop what is known as secure attachment. Children with secure attachment are less likely to develop internalizing problems later on. These children also have better problem-solving skills and control over their emotions.
When enforcing discipline, authoritative parents are consistent in their approach. Consistency is the most important part of successful discipline in the home. Children whose parents enforce limits and discipline are less likely to have either internalizing or externalizing issues.
Easy Ways to Implement Authoritative Parenting
Practicing authoritative parenting can help parents raise healthier and happier children better-equipped for real challenges. Every parent has the power to become more authoritative over time.
Parents can also match their child’s unique personality traits to different authoritative parenting strategies. This helps keep parents from falling into “cookie-cutter” parenting strategies. Here are some examples of how to implement authoritative parenting.
Consider the Feelings of Your Children
Part of being an authoritative parent is considering your children’s feelings. This doesn’t mean kids get an equal say in things. Doing so would fall more under the idea of permissive parenting.
Show your children you’re in charge. Make it clear you care about how your decisions will affect your family and invite discussion.
If you’re planning to make a long-distance move to a new home, ask your children how they feel. You’re not asking for their permission to move, so you don’t want to ask them if it’s okay. Kids don’t have the life experience or wisdom for major decisions, after all. They feel much more secure when they know the adults know best and then talk to them about it.
Listen to Your Children
Authoritative parents welcome the opinions of their children. They listen to their kids openly and honestly and allow them to share their ideas and concerns. This is contrary to authoritarian parents, who believe children are better seen and not heard.
Your child might be telling you the exact same knock-knock joke for the tenth time this afternoon. They could be sharing a long-winded story that they can’t seem to reach the point of. Whatever the situation, be a good listener. Giving your child your full attention and being positive will help to prevent behavioral problems later on.
Validate Their Emotions
Authoritative parents make sure to acknowledge the emotions of their children. They teach their kids to recognize how their emotions affect their behavior. Authoritative parents also help their children label their different emotions.
The next time your child is upset, don’t minimize what they’re feeling. Saying things like “it’s no big deal” or “there’s no reason to be upset” can be hurtful. The situation may be a very big deal to them, and it would be better to validate their feelings. Saying “I know you’re really sad right now” is a better way to go.
Remember you’re not trying to correct your child’s emotions, just their behavior. Tell them it’s okay to be angry, but there are consequences for hitting or biting. You can say it’s fine to be excited, but running around in a store is unacceptable. This will give you an opportunity to teach your child acceptable ways to deal with their feelings.
Allow Your Children to Make Small Choices
Authoritative parents give their children select options over small choices. This empowers kids and prepares them for much larger decisions later in life.
Try asking your child which vegetable they would like with their dinner. You could also ask them if they want to clean their room before or after dinner. The key here is to let your child make a choice they can live with either way.
Balance Responsibilities with Freedom
Authoritative parents set their children up for success and expect them to be responsible. Picture a child who forgets to pack up everything they need for school. Their parents then create a school supplies checklist. In the morning before leaving, the child’s parents ask them to go over the checklist.
If your child is having a hard time with something, you can create a behavior management plan. This will help support your child becoming more independent. Give them extra support at the beginning. Over time, your child will become more and more self-reliant. Make sure they aren’t becoming too dependent on you to direct them, though.
Keep Your Relationship Healthy
Being an authoritative parent isn’t all about shouting orders and commanding obedience. It’s more about parents teaching their children valuable life skills and acting as a good role model.
Authoritative parents are nurturing and warm. They show their children affection and know the importance of being supportive.
Take a few minutes each day to give your child your full and complete attention. Do this even on days where they’re misbehaving. By spending quality time together, you help your child feel accepted and loved. This is key instilling confidence in who they are and what they can accomplish in life.
Set Clear Rules
Clear household rules should be set by authoritative parents. They make sure children know what is expected of them in advance and explain the reasoning behind the rules. Instead of saying “go to sleep because I said so”, authoritative parents say “go to sleep so you can help your brain and body grow”.
Are the rules there for social reasons? Is it a safety concern or health hazard? Are there moral issues at play? Once your child understands why your rules are in place, they begin to develop a better understanding of life. They’ll also be much more likely to follow the rules in your absence.
Give a Warning for Small Problems
In the case of minor issues, authoritative parents will offer a warning to their children. They will very clearly explain the consequences of their kids not changing their behavior. Telling your child things like “knock it off” or saying “don’t make me tell you again” are meaningless. Instead, identify what they’re doing wrong and warn them of the impending consequences. Try saying “if you don’t stop banging your fork on the table your video games will be unplugged for the day”.
Make sure to show your child you mean what you say and say what you mean. If your child fails to listen to the warning you give them, make sure to follow through on the consequences. Don’t give your child multiple warnings, either. By repeating yourself, you give your child the idea they don’t have to listen to you the first time you tell them something.
Turn a Mistake into a Learning Opportunity
Authoritative parents never embarrass their children for making a mistake. They instead help their kids turn their mistake into a chance to learn.
When your child makes a mistake, sit them down and explain why their behavior was a poor choice. If your child has hurt someone, assist them in making amends with that person. Insist they let a classmate they hit play with their favorite toy or something similar.
If your child makes the same mistake multiple times, see if you can solve the problem together. Your child will greatly appreciate you taking the time to work with them.
Make Sure Consequences Teach Life Lessons
Authoritative parents don’t force their children to suffer for the mistakes they’ve made. These parents don’t believe in shaming or humiliating their children, either. Corporal punishment is also something authoritative parents don’t consider. They help their children recognize they’ve made the wrong choice while reassuring them they aren’t a bad person.
Consequences should be logical in nature. If your child plays too long on their video game system, a reasonable consequence would be to take away their video game privileges for a day.
Establish consequences that will encourage your child to make better choices in the future. If your child hits someone, don’t retaliate by spanking them. Take away a privilege. Then sit your child down and teach them good conflict resolution skills.
Consequences should also be time-sensitive. Instead of saying “you can have your games back when I trust you again”, give your child a timeframe to work within. Say “you can have your games back when you prove you’re responsible. Show me you’re responsible by getting your chores done and your homework finished on time tomorrow.”
Offer Your Children Incentives
Using rewards to motivate children is another trait of authoritative parents. This doesn’t mean they shower their kids with gifts. When their child is struggling with a specific issue, parents use small incentives to get them back on track. Check out these examples below.
- A young child refuses to sleep in their own bed at night. The child’s parents create a sticker chart. Every night the child sleeps in their own bed, they get a sticker for the chart.
- A child in elementary school is slow to get ready for the school bus in the morning. The child’s parents set a timer every day. If the child is ready for school before the timer goes off, they get extra time on their favorite video game that evening.
- A middle school child has been forgetting to bring homework home from school. The child’s parents begin to monitor their work more closely. Every time the child remembers to bring an assignment home, they earn a token. These tokens can be used for rewards like having friends over or a trip to the park.
Think about how you can use a reward system to teach your child new life skills. Creating a simple reward plan can be an efficient way to change your child’s behaviors.
Encourage Your Children to Practice Self-Discipline
Authoritative parents don’t have a desire to control their children. Their ultimate goal is for their children to learn to control themselves.
Don’t try to calm your child down every time they’re upset. Teach them how to calm themselves down. Don’t constantly nag at your child to do their chores, either. Allow them to get the work done on their own. This will help them become more responsible and give them a sense of pride.
Try setting up a behavior management plan to focus on teaching your child life skills. Anger management, impulse control, and self-discipline will serve your child well as they go through life.
The Benefits of Authoritative Parenting
There are many benefits to using authoritative parenting. Some of these will be seen early on while others appear later on in life. Let’s take a look at some examples of the benefits to authoritative parenting in younger children.
Younger children of authoritative parents …
- tend to be more confident and happy
- are more self-reliant and independent
- begin to develop better social skills
- explore new places and things without a sense of fear
- have a good sense of self-control and emotional stability
- can be assertive and competent
Older children of authoritative parents …
- experience more success in school
- interact with their friends and family with competent social skills
- participate in more after-school activities
- have better mental health and less dependency on alcohol or drugs
- maintain a higher sense of self-esteem
- display fewer violent or aggressive tendencies
Why is authoritative parenting a good parenting style?
Children who are raised by authoritative parents are more likely to become self-reliant and independent. These children find it easier to be socially accepted and achieve a higher degree of academic success. They’re also more well-behaved at home.
These kids are less likely to experience anxiety and depression as well as drug or alcohol dependency.
Authoritative parents and their children have more respect for one another. They listen to each other openly and practice good communication skills. This parenting style provides a balance between responsibility and freedom that allows children to grow while setting high expectations.
How does poor parenting affect children?
Poor or absentee parenting can make children more prone to criminal behavior. Children of neglectful parents are also more likely to become juvenile delinquents. Instances of child abuse heighten these risks. Kids who are exposed to poor parenting can become much more withdrawn and stressed. Depression and anxiety can become common as well as acts of aggression. Their performance in school suffers and their behavior at home can become out of control.
Nicole Malczan is a content marketing writer and freelancer. She's applied her knowledge of marketing and SEO to many clients over the years, ranging from food service to facilities management and currency exchange. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking, and music.