What Is Authoritative Parenting?

A parenting style that focuses on balance

Mother talking to her daughter
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Authoritative parenting is characterized by reasonable demands and high responsiveness. While these parents might have high expectations for their children, they also give their kids the resources and support they need to succeed. Parents who exhibit this style listen to their kids and provide love and warmth in addition to limits and fair discipline.

Traditionally, the authoritative parenting style has been identified as the most effective.

It is argued that kids raised by authoritative parents tend to have strong self-regulation skills, self-confidence, and happier attitudes. However, more recent research suggests that parents be flexible based on their personal goals and the unique behaviors of each child.

A Brief History of Authoritative Parenting

During the 1960s, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind described three different types of parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. This was based on her research with preschool-age children.

The authoritative parenting style is sometimes referred to as "democratic." It involves a child-centric approach in which parents hold high expectations for their children.

Characteristics of the Authoritative Parenting Style

According to Baumrind, authoritative parents share some common characteristics:

  • They listen to their children.
  • They encourage independence.
  • They place limits, consequences, and expectations on their children's behavior.
  • They express warmth and nurturance.
  • They allow children to express opinions.
  • They encourage children to discuss options.
  • They administer fair and consistent discipline.

People with authoritative parenting styles want their children to utilize reasoning and work independently, but their expectations are also high.

When children break the rules, they are disciplined in a fair and consistent manner.

These parents also tend to be flexible. If there are extenuating circumstances, they will allow the child to explain what happened and adjust their response accordingly. They offer consistent discipline but in a way that is fair and takes into account all of the variables, including the child’s behavior and the situation.

The Effects of the Authoritative Parenting Style

In the past, child development experts influenced by Baumrind's work generally identified the authoritative parenting style as the "best" approach to parenting. According to this theory, children raised by authoritative parents tend to be more capable, happy, and successful.

According to Baumrind, children of authoritative parents:

  • Tend to have happier dispositions.
  • Have good emotional control and regulation.
  • Develop good social skills.
  • Are self-confident about their abilities to learn new skills.

Why Authoritative Parenting Works

Authoritative parents act as role models and exhibit the same behaviors they expect from their children. Because of this, the kids are more likely to internalize these behaviors and exhibit them as well. Consistent rules and discipline also allow children to know what to expect.

The parents tend to exhibit good emotional understanding and control. Their children also learn to manage their emotions and learn to understand others as well.

Authoritative parents also allow children to act independently. This teaches kids that they are capable of accomplishing things on their own, helping to foster strong self-esteem and self-confidence.

Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Parenting

These characteristics can be contrasted with the authoritarian parenting style. This style is characterized by exceedingly high expectations with little warmth and guidance.

For example, imagine a situation where two young boys steal candy from the grocery store.

One boy has authoritative parents, so when he finally arrives home he receives a fair punishment that fits the nature of the transgression. He is grounded for two weeks and must return the candy and apologize to the store owner. His parents talk to him about why stealing is wrong, but are supportive and encourage him not to engage in such behavior again.

The other boy has authoritarian parents, so when he arrives home, he is yelled at by both parents. His father spanks him and orders him to spend the rest of the night in his room without dinner. The child’s parents offer little support or love and no feedback or guidance about why the theft was wrong.

A Word From Verywell

Some parents are naturally more authoritative than authoritarian or permissive. Yet, it does not mean that any parent cannot adopt a more authoritative style. It may mean that you will have to remain mindful of your actions while you try to develop these habits. 

It might help to view this parenting style as a balance between discipline, emotional control, and allowing independence. Try not to be too harsh nor too lenient. You can try to let your child make more decisions, but also have regular discussions about those. With time, attention, and flexibility to your child's needs these methods will become more natural.

Sources:

Baumrind D. Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs. 1967:75(1):43-88.

Maccoby EE. The Role of Parents in the Socialization of Children: An Historical Overview. Developmental Psychology.1992:28;1006-1017.

Smetana JG. Current research on parenting styles, dimensions, and beliefs. Current Opinion in Psychology. 2017;15:19-25.

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