What Is Authoritative Parenting?

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The way we parent our children can have profound impacts on their emotional well-being, development, and later success in life. As such, experts have identified four different parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. These types are based on the research of clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind, and were further shaped by Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin, researchers from Stanford University.

Of the four parenting types, experts agree that authoritative parenting—where warmth and connection are balanced by adherence to rules and structure—is most favored. Children who are parented with an authoritative style are most likely to be emotionally balanced and well adjusted.

Let’s look at what authoritative parenting is, how it affects kids, and how you can adopt aspects of this style into your parenting.

What Is Authoritative Parenting?

Authoritative parenting is a parenting style that values connection but does not shy away from rules or authority. “

Authoritative parenting is defined as a parenting or caregiving style in which caregivers are nurturing, responsive, and supportive in their interactions with their children, while also balancing that warmth with firm (yet safe) and consistent limit setting,” says Ciera Schoonover, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the department of psychology at Middle Tennessee State University.

Sometimes parents confuse authoritative parenting with authoritarian parenting since the words are so similar. But there are key differences between these two types of parenting, Schoonover explains. Both authoritative parenting with authoritarian parenting involves setting limits for children, but parents who are authoritarian in nature do not display warmth and responsiveness to their kids in the same way that authoritative parents do.

Qualities of an Authoritative Parent

Parents who practice an authoritative parenting style establish clear boundaries and have high expectations for their kids, says Brenda Arellano, LPA, licensed psychological associate and pediatric anxiety specialist. But this is coupled with a positive spirit and a demeanor that is caring and encouraging. Authoritative parents might say something like, “I know you’re capable of amazing things and I’m gonna help you get there,” Arellano suggests.

Additionally, says Arellano, authoritative parents are good listeners and express care and interest in their children’s thoughts and feelings. “Authoritative parents see their child as a full person and treat them with love and compassion,” she describes. Importantly, authoritative parents will gently nudge their kids to step out of their comfort zones so that they will try new things and challenge themselves.

“They set clear expectations, communicate those expectations and enforce those expectations and boundaries,” Arellano explains. “Kids need both love and consistency in order to thrive.”

Examples of Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parenting can take form in many ways. “[It] might look like taking your child’s wants, needs, feelings into consideration, responding to your child if they are hurt or in need, providing physical touch and comfort to your child, and/or giving reasons for limits and consequences,” Schoonover offers.

For example, an authoritative parent might say, in a clear, but kind tone: “We’re going to grandma’s house now, so please put on your shoes.” If that doesn’t happen, an authoritative parent might tell the child that they will be in time-out if they don’t adhere to the rule, Schoonover adds.

Arellano says that authoritative parents often help their children deal with times of anxiety—not by forcing them to do things they are scared of and not by allowing them to bail on things that challenge them. Instead, authoritative parents empower their kids to face their fears.

To illustrate this, Arellano shares a theoretical example of a child who is anxious about going to a neighborhood picnic. The child is expressing hesitation and is visibly afraid. The authoritative parent will validate these feelings and offer comfort and soothing, says Arellano. But they will still tell their child that they are expected to attend.

In this situation, they might start by saying something like, “I hear ya. I know meeting new people is really hard for you because you don’t want to embarrass yourself and I can see you’re really scared right now,” Arellano suggests. Then, they might follow up with something like, “I know you can do this. I’ve seen you do hard things before and I know you can do it now. Let's take some deep breaths and walk over together.”

Effects of Authoritative Parenting

Research has shown that children who are raised with authoritative parenting styles are well-adjusted and have appropriate developmental outcomes.

“The science suggests children of parents with an authoritative parenting style tend to be more confident, and have better social skills and problem-solving skills,” explains Arellano. “This translates into many different positive outcomes for the child, like school achievement and better mental health, higher self-esteem, and healthier relationships.”

These positive outcomes are felt throughout childhood. For example, a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that young children raised with authoritative parenting styles have stronger self-regulation skills. Another study, published in The Journal of Genetic Psychology found that authoritative parenting had a mitigating effect on depression during adolescence and that it increased self-confidence and self-worth among teens.

How to Be an Authoritative Parent

Being an authoritative parent isn’t easy. It takes time and effort to establish developmentally appropriate expectations for your child, and then follow through with them in a clear and consistent manner. As we all know, children naturally test boundaries and aren’t always compliant, so responding to these challenges in kind and respectful ways can also be difficult.

So, the first thing to keep in mind when trying to adopt a more authoritative parenting style is to be gentle on yourself, and to know that any little adjustments you make in the direction of a more authoritative style “count” and are helpful.

Schoonover suggests that one simple thing you can do to add more authoritative parenting into your life is to focus on finding more ways to praise your child when they are good listeners or follow your directions well.

“Look for opportunities to praise their child for doing something prosocial/kind/appropriate, even if it seems insignificant,” Schoonover recommends. This can be something as small as thanking them for putting their toy in the toybox or using their words to express a feeling.

You can also find more opportunities to spend one-on-one time with your child, Schoonover says. “Let the child choose the activity and the caregiver will follow along, notice their behaviors, imitate their play, and praise the child for the things they are doing well,” she describes.

In terms of boundaries and limits, it’s important that everyone in your home be on the same page about what the expectations are for your child, Schoonover recommends. You also want to make sure the expectations are developmentally appropriate. For example, says Schoonover, a 30-minute time-out is probably not appropriate for a 4-year-old who didn’t help clean up after dinner. But something like a three-minute time-out for a four-year-old who hit their sibling is an appropriate form of discipline.

“Caregivers should avoid harsh or coercive parenting techniques and make sure expectations are reasonable,” Schoonover reminds. “Prepare their child with what the consequences are and make it clear that they will follow through.”

A Word From Verywell

Of all the parenting styles out there, authoritative parenting is the one that most experts recommend parents strive for. This style combines the best of all the techniques: It is respectful of a child’s feelings but teaches them that they must abide by certain expectations. Research shows that this style sets children up to develop into mature, self-regulated children and adults.

Adopting a parenting style like authoritative parenting can be difficult at times. If you need further guidance about how to do this, and about what types of rules and limits are developmentally appropriate for your child, you should speak to your pediatrician. They can also refer you to a child psychologist or other specialist if you need further guidance.

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