Before having kids I thought parenting was just “parenting”. You loved your children, told them right from wrong, and generally just tried to raise them to be good humans. But I was surprised to learn that there are actually different types of parenting; like the authoritative parenting style. There are even monikers made up for some of them, like tiger parents. It’s a lot to take in.
Want to know more about authoritative parents including examples, pros, and cons, and even find out if maybe you should use the authoritative approach? This authoritative parenting style guide is for you!
We’ll cover all you need to know on authoritative child rearing and answer your most pressing questions related to authoritative parental control.
What Is Authoritative Parenting?
You have heard of the term a lot but what is authoritative parenting all about? To answer the question, we need to go back a few decades, to the founder who first researched this ideal parenting approach, Diana Baumrind.
Let’s take a look.
How Authoritative Parenting Style Was Established
It began in the 1960s with developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind. She had studied preschool-aged children and from this research developed three parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive.
Since then, authoritative parenting has come to be thought of as the best parenting style for children. This is because it is thought of as a democratic style of parenting. It is based on consistency, fairness, expression of love and warmth, and allowing kids to make decisions and voice opinions within set boundaries.
The authoritative style places a strong emphasis on parents using research, support, and guidance to create high expectations for their children. But they also must enforce these expectations with a child-centric approach, listening to their kid’s wants, needs, and feelings while taking into consideration their children’s behavior.
According to the American Psychological Association, the exact authoritative parenting definition is a parenting style where the adults (parents) are warm, supportive, responsive, and nurturing while setting firm limits, boundaries, and expectations for their children. They listen, explain, discuss, and reason with their children, but don’t always accept their viewpoints.
All of these things are amazing for child behavior and child development, which is the reason authoritative parenting style is regarded as the best parenting style among others.
Characteristics of Authoritative Parenting Style
So what makes this approach the best parenting style? What is a distinctive feature of authoritative parents? Well, there are actually a few.
Within an authoritative family, there is a balance between the parents and the children. The parents provide clear boundaries and limits for their children. They also have high expectations. However, they are not opposed to listening to their kids, revising their rules, and working together to democratically arrive at a solution while providing excellent emotional support.
The most common characteristics you will find with the authoritative parenting style are:
- Parents who have limits, boundaries, consequences, and expectations for their children
- Parents who listen to their children’s feelings and take into account their personalities and behaviors
- Parents who are opening to discussing things with their children and taking into consideration their opinions
- Parents who show love and affection and are warm towards their children
- Parents who nurture their children’s independence and reasoning skills
As you may have surmised, an authoritative parent is able to adapt and adjust in order to accommodate their kids as well as extenuating circumstances. In authoritative families, discipline is more about teaching and takes into consideration all aspects of the situation, like the environment, emotions, and more. These characteristics vary from other parenting styles.
What Does Authoritative Parenting Look Like for Kids of Different Ages?
Wondering how to be an authoritative parent? These examples of authoritative parenting may help.
But remember, authoritative parenting and especially authoritative discipline look different depending on your child’s age.
On Newborns and Infants, to Toddlers and Older Kids
Authoritative parents of newborns and infants tend to be very warm and loving. They are quick to respond to their infant’s cries and do not punish them by withdrawing attention. As their baby becomes a toddler they begin setting limitations and boundaries. They enforce these boundaries with care and take time to explain to their child why the limits are necessary.
When their toddler starts elementary school begins the stage of expectations and consequences in addition to the boundaries. Parents also begin not just taking their child’s feelings and behaviors into account but also discussing and reasoning with their children as part of disciplining them.
When they are in grade school, adolescent children, teenagers, and beyond authoritative parents have clear rules with consistent discipline and consequences, but take the time to listen to their child and adjust the rules or punishment as necessary.
As authoritative parenting tends to be child-centric and adapts based on the child’s age, developmental stage, behavior, and emotions it will look different for each age range, but the concept of teaching kids is still the same. Think about the differences in rules and expectations for teenagers versus preschool age children – these responsive parents tend to adjust their level of reasoning and strictness depending on the behavior problems faced while encouraging independence to correct own mistakes.
As a result, children raised in this environment tend to have better self-reliance, self-confidence, self-esteem and more emotional control rather than blind obedience or fear towards their parents.
Authoritative Parenting Examples
Here are a few authoritative parenting examples:
Let’s say an elementary schooler steals another child’s ruler from school and brings it home. The authoritative parent would sit down with their child and explain to them while stealing the ruler is wrong. They would outline their behavior expectations for the child. Then, they would enforce a fair consequence, likely returning the ruler and explaining the situation to the teacher.
In this example an authoritative parent wants their child to get involved in something after school. Instead of forcing them to get a job or picking the activity for them, they sit down with their teenager. They discuss what would interest them and what they may possibly want to do with their time after school. The parent guides the child towards an appropriate choice and will likely set limits and expectations for the choice. Such as if they choose to join a sport they will need to attend all practices and games and complete the season.
A child wants to watch television or play a game. Authoritative parents will likely let their little one have screen time. However, they will have limits on how long and what content they view. These limits will take into account the child’s age, child’s behavior, and what they are using the screen for. The parent will probably talk with their child about the reasons for the limits and what is expected, and will not employ parental monitoring app unless the situation calls for it.
Benefits and Effects of Authoritative parenting
After reviewing authoritative parenting statistics , many experts have determined that authoritative parenting is the most effective parenting style.
We discuss the various advantages that this parenting method can bring to help you visualize the effects of such parenting practice.
Advantages of Authoritative Parenting
The effects of authoritative parenting tend to be positive, and we have one of the child experts affirm the benefits.
If parenting styles were depicted on a continuum from least to most permissive, authoritative parenting would fall in the middle ground. Authoritative parents are neither excessively controlling (also known as authoritarian), nor overly permissive with their children.
Research shows that authoritative parenting style leads to children who tend to be cheerful, self-reliant, and achievement-oriented, while authoritarian and permissive styles of parenting tend to lead to more behavioral challenges than authoritative parenting.– Beth Tyson, Licensed Child Therapist, Choosingtherapy.com
Most children of authoritative parents turn out to be kind, compassionate, independent, responsible, well-behaved, and successful members of society. Because parents provide a loving atmosphere while setting boundaries and expectations from an early age, they may have an easier time raising their little ones as they grow up. Authoritative parenting effects can benefit parents too!
Here are some of the positive outcomes for children:
- More likely to be kind and compassionate
- Better behaved, academically successful, and socially accepted
- Independent, self-reliant, and great self-esteem
- Less likely to be anxious or depressed
- Less likely to engage in poor behavior/choices (such as drug use)
To elaborate further, Beth mentioned, “Parents with an authoritative style keep their word, enforce rules, and have realistic expectations of their children in relation to their developmental ability. Authoritative parents are focused on respecting their children’s needs and empathizing with their emotions while also remaining firm with family rules.”
She added, “For example, if a parent with an authoritative style were having trouble getting her three year old to leave the park, she might say “I see you are upset because you really don’t want to leave the park, but we need to leave now. You can chase me to the car or I can carry you. Which do you choose?” Then the parent follows through and stays calm while carrying the child out of the park if he won’t leave on his own.”
Beth noted, “This is a difficult balance to hold, and often parents find themselves vacillating between being overly strict, and then swinging to the opposite side of the continuum and becoming overly permissive out of exhaustion, burnout, or guilt. In general, parents with authoritative styles invest in their relationship with a child over using force, or allowing the child to get away with misbehavior.”
How to be An Authoritative Parent
Some parents naturally fall into the authoritative parenting style while others don’t. Using the characteristics and examples provided, you can begin to become an authoritative parent.
We highlight some practical tips shared by experts, plus helpful resources to aid you in adopting this ideal parenting practice.
Practical Tips by Experts
We learn that it is important to set limits and boundaries while considering your child’s age, feelings, and tendencies. If they mess up listen to them, discuss things with them, and offer warnings before issuing harsh reprimands.
Strike up a balance between freedom and responsibility, allowing your kiddo to learn from their mistakes and become more confident.
But are there any practical steps one can take to smoothly incorporate the authoritative method? Two parenting experts shared with us some tidbits on clear, actionable tips that parents can apply to become a more authoritative parent.
Kait Towner, LMHC, RPT, CCPT, IMH-E
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, and Infant Mental Health Specialist practicing in Rochester, New York
What parents can do:
1. Be Consistent: Children (and parents alike!) get incredibly confused when limits, boundaries, and rules are inconsistent. For example, after I praised my 6 month old baby for kicking his legs, my toddler became utterly confused as to why we were mad that he was kicking us! It doesn’t make sense that my toddler can kick but his baby brother is getting a praise party for it! Having consistent rules, expectations, and boundaries across the board for the family will make it that much easier for your family overall.
2. Express and Validate Feelings: it is so important for caregivers to be able to share their feelings about a situation and in turn validate their child’s feelings. This increases the communication within the family and makes it that much easier to work through any challenges that arise. I encourage children and parents alike to use “I-messages” in communicating with one another (I feel _____ when______ because ______. I want/need______.)
3. Have Special Time: The biggest difference between authoritative and authoritarian parents is that authoritative parents are able to connect with their child in joyful moments. Schedule “special time” during a set day and time with your child once a week for 15-20 minutes. During this time, have your child take the lead by deciding what to play with, where to go, and so on. Having special time with your child has a huge positive impact on your relationship. This makes it that much easier to work through any challenges together when disciplining needs to occur.
Jen Kiss, CPC
Certified Parent Coach
Be clear about what you expect from your child. If you can answer ‘yes’ to these 3 questions then you have done your part to set your child up for success.
1. Did you tell your child how you expected them to act before they acted?
2. Did you give specific enough instructions? For example, put on your shoes and coat and meet me by the door vs. get ready to go.
3. Did you let your child know ahead of time what would happen if they did not do what was expected of them?
Consequences should be easy for you to implement and immediate. Most importantly, consequences need to be applied consistently to be effective. You can make things easier by using natural consequences or a predetermined consequence.
When your child is emotional, reflect your child’s feelings back to them. Reflecting does not mean you rescue them from hard feelings or change your mind, however. Kids can feel supported and be disappointed, angry or sad at the same time. This helps teach kids how to be resilient and process their emotions in a healthy way.
If you want to know more about how to put this into practice here are some books we love:
● Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields. This book shows you how to steer clear of reactive parenting and instead guide your children towards your expectations with calm, warm, and clear directives (no yelling needed!).
● The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel. If you are looking for insights into why your child has tantrums, sulks, or exhibits other behaviors then this book is for you! It gives a wonderful explanation and then teaches you how to handle these episodes with supportive practical strategies.
● Authoritative Parenting: Synthesizing Nurturance and Discipline for Optimal Child Development by Robert E. Larzelere. This is the ultimate deep dive into authoritative parenting. It takes a close look at Diana Baumrind’s theory and updates it with modern knowledge and applications. It includes plenty of prevention and intervention tactics too.
Is Authoritative Parenting Right For My Family?
We have gone over the answer to the question, how does authoritative parenting affect the child and found that children of authoritative parents usually grow up to be well-rounded adults.
But is this style great for every family?
Is Authoritative Parenting Applicable for Every Child?
For most families, authoritative parenting creates children that are tuned into their emotions and because of this are nurturing to others. The parents are strict but non-punitive, letting their kids take responsibility but also discuss their actions and reason with their parents.
Authoritative parents are supportive without being overbearing and their children fully understand their expectations and consequences. These characteristics can be applied to almost any family unit.
Nevertheless, it can be trying for parents to maintain this style as their kid ages. Experts agree that authoritative parenting is very beneficial but when your child becomes a teenager their rebellion can push your boundaries and high expectations.
Dr. Amanda Gummer, Founder of The Good Play Guide and child psychologist commented:
Authoritative parenting is a child-centred approach to raising children. There are benefits to this method, such as parents who are warm, loving, and take the time to listen to their child. However, having high expectations, so much focus on the child, or parenting in a particular way may not be right for every family, as it can create pressure on both parents and children to be perfect.
I propose instead a parent-centred approach that has no list of rules, and no rigid information on what to do and what not to do. Instead, it views the parent as their child’s most important role model. Essentially, try to be the person you want your child to become. This has some overlap with authoritative parenting, for example, it’s likely that you’ll want your child to grow up being warm, loving, and a good listener. You might also want to make time for your own hobbies and friends, think about how you deal with challenges, and consider how you keep healthy with a balanced diet and exercise. Children are little sponges, so they are likely to copy what they see you do.
The parent-centred parenting model also takes into account the fact that every child develops at a different rate. It encourages parents to meet their own mental, emotional and physical needs. I believe that being a parent does not mean that it’s selfish to put yourself first. This is not about neglecting your child’s needs, but rather, making sure you are better equipped to take care of your family. It also means your child can develop at their own pace in a nurturing but not overbearing environment, and grow up respecting you as an individual, not just “mum” or “dad”.
Still, it is important to be patient as you continue using the authoritative parenting style. Your child won’t benefit from apathy or extremely harsh punishments. Alternatively, as proposed by Dr. Gummer, the parent-centred parenting approach may be for you if you decide not to go full-on authoritative.
Other Major Parenting Styles
Now that you understand the key characteristics that are distinct in authoritative child rearing, how does an authoritative parent compare to the non-authoritative parents?
We discuss the differences in approach and provide you with an example scenario to help you understand the other major parenting styles a little better.
Authoritative Parents vs Authoritarian Parents
It is easy to get these two types confused when only looking at their titles, however, they are quite different. In authoritarian parenting, parents have the same high expectations, limits, and rules as authoritative parents. But a major difference is that authoritarian parents are not usually warm, open to discussion, or flexible in their discipline.
Authoritarian parents may discipline with unwavering rules and consequences, which can sometimes be too harsh. Whatsmore they don’t take into account any extenuating circumstances that could alter the punishment they dole out.
Under authoritarian parenting, discipline is geared towards punishment as in the eyes of an authoritarian parent, parental control is extremely important. Authoritarian parents provide little guidance, encouragement, or discussion about what may have caused the child’s transgression, why it is wrong in the first place, or how to prevent the bad behavior in the future.
Children raised under authoritarian parents have higher chances of suffering from mental health issues and low self esteem, and potentially cause more behavior problems.
Let’s say that a child would like to spend five more minutes playing before taking a bath. Authoritative parents would explain their reasoning for needing the child to take a bath now. However, they would also consider the situation and listen to the child’s opinion.
They may decide to flex the rules and allow their child to play five more minutes or they may calmly explain to the child that they need to take a bath now and gently guide them to the bathroom.
An authoritarian parent would not listen to what the child wants and would not even think of flexing the rules. Their reply would be that the child is taking a bath now, “because I said so”.
Authoritative Parents vs Permissive Parents
Authoritative parenting varies from permissive parenting in that there aren’t a lot of rules, boundaries, or consequences with permissive parents. Permissive parents are loving, warm, and affectionate just like authoritative parents.
However, this often goes to the extreme. They may over-indulge their child, run the family in a very child-centric manner, and avoid having to give consequences at any cost.
These parents are more a friend to their child than a parent figure and don’t have behavioral control over their child. They permit almost anything within reason in this indulgent parenting style. While authoritative parents and permissive parents have some similarities, authoritarian vs permissive parenting styles are polar opposites.
Using the previous example of a bath, a permissive parent would let their child do whatever they wanted. If the child wanted five more minutes to play the parent would respond simply, “ok”. They would not make the child stop playing nor would they explain why they really needed their child to take a bath now. They would acquiesce to whatever their kid wanted.
Authoritative Parents vs Neglectful Parents
Unresponsive, neglectful, or unresponsive parenting does not look anything like authoritative parenting. Parents of neglectful parenting style don’t respond to their children’s wants or needs.
Parents of neglectful families tend to be apathetic. They don’t make demands of their child, set limits or rules because they don’t tend to care in this uninvolved parenting style.
Unresponsive parents are dismissive and lackadaisical about not only rules but also affection and nurturing. They can range from just indifferent about their child to neglectful, failing to take care of them.
Using the bath example again, a neglectful parent may not even care if their child bathes or not. An unresponsive parent likely wouldn’t hear that the child wanted to play longer, and wouldn’t issue a ruling either way. Naturally, the child would continue playing until their uninvolved parents noticed they were not taking a bath.
A Great Parenting Approach for All
Authoritative parenting truly is thought of as the best approach. Unlike unresponsive parenting or helicopter parenting, it blends the best aspects of parental guidance and child-centric thought. Authoritative parenting isn’t always easy, but it does have profound benefits for your child.
We hope you enjoyed this article and would love to answer any questions you leave in the comments!
If you have additional tips or experiences to add to the discussion, we would love to hear from you too!
- What Is Authoritative Parenting? by Choosing Therapy