Authoritative parenting is one of the most effective and beneficial parenting styles. Here’s what to know about it.
Imagine you walk into your child’s room and you notice that their homework isn’t finished, the room is a mess, and they’re on the phone talking with their friend. What do you?
Parenting isn’t easy, especially in moments like these.
Your first instinct may be to yell and punish your kid. But what if you choose to remind them about your request instead, and give them a firm deadline for when you expect both tasks to be completed? You can set up consequences for not completing the tasks, such as taking away their phone for the day.
Of course, there is no “right” way to handle the situation. Yet, this could be exactly how someone following an authoritative parenting style would react in this situation.
This parenting style has been shown to be highly effective in psychological research. Here’s what to know about it.
Authoritative parenting is sometimes confused with authoritarian parenting, which is actually very different. Authoritative parenting is a parenting philosophy developed in the 1960s by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind.
It aims to strike a balance between structure and nurture.
“Parents using an authoritative style have certain expectations for their children, though they use respect to encourage good behavior,” explains Jaclyn Gulotta, a mental health counselor and parenting coordinator based in Lake Mary, Florida.
In other words, authoritative parents may set clear boundaries and rules for their kids, but they will also give them the resources and support they need to succeed and meet those expectations.
They also leave some room for conversation and compromise in their relationship with their child.
“This style is much more democratic,” explains Brent Metcalf, a clinical social worker based in Johnson City, Tennessee.
“The guardians using this style of parenting are responsive to their children and will usually listen to the children about any complaints or questions they have about the rules set in place.”
Caregivers using authoritative parenting also tend to use fair discipline and are more forgiving if a kid doesn’t meet expectations, especially if there are extenuating circumstances.
This is because, in general, an authoritative parent will rely more on positive reinforcement and encouragement, rather than punishment or threats, to get their children to strive to do better next time.
What are examples of authoritative parenting?
- establishing household chores, but giving the child choices for which tasks they want to be responsible for
- setting clear expectations, boundaries, or rules for your kid and communicating them ahead of time
- being comfortable saying no to your child
- following through with fair and consistent discipline when expectations aren’t met or rules are broken
- listening to kids when they’re upset, disappointed, or feeling another big emotion
- encouraging kids to have an opinion and share it with you and others
- being warm, empathetic, compassionate, loving, and nurturing toward your child
- prioritizing your connection and relationship with your kid over micromanaging their behavior
- fostering independence while also allowing children to feel the consequences of their own choices or actions
- supporting your kid’s ambitions and interests by giving them the tools and encouragement they need, rather than enabling them
Authoritative parenting is one of the four basic parenting styles described in cornerstone psychological literature, according to a
- Authoritarian parenting. This parenting style is very strict and relies on punishment and less open communication about the reasoning behind the rules. This is what Metcalf says he calls the “because I said so” parenting style.
- Permissive parenting. This parenting style is lenient, with very few concrete demands or rules for kids. “Children experiencing this parenting style are rarely disciplined and [their caregivers] are generally nurturing and communicative with their children,” Metcalf explains. “This often looks more like a friendship than it does a parent-child relationship.”
- Uninvolved parenting. This style also has very few parenting demands or rules, but it also doesn’t have a lot of communication between kid and caregiver, either. “Parents may meet the basic needs of children — food, water, shelter, clothing — but they are typically detached from their child’s life,” Metcalf explains.
Of course, there are other complementary parenting philosophies out there, including mindful parenting. In general, those are strategies that often work with one of these basic styles, rather than replacing them.
It’s difficult to say for certain whether authoritative parenting is the most effective.
Psychologists and parents often disagree about the best way to raise the caregiver’s particular children. Kids also do not all respond in the exact same ways to boundaries, rules, or even their parents’ support and nurturing.
There are also many different factors at play influencing each child’s development and mental health, 2019 research says. This could limit the effectiveness of one particular parenting style.
However, many psychologists, researchers, and child development experts — including Metcalf and Gulotta — are big supporters of authoritative parenting because of its benefits.
“[It] may be more effective than other parenting styles, as it promotes a sense of security and stability from the parents,” Gulotta explains. “Children may feel more respected and feel validated even when they are being disciplined.”
“This can leave children feeling more self-confident in their relationships and attachments,” Gulotta says.
What the research says
Research also seems to suggest that authoritative parenting can be very beneficial for kids.
A 2015 study found that an authoritative parenting style might boost creativity in children.
A 2020 study found that authoritative parenting led to higher life satisfaction in young people between ages 14 and 29.
A 2021 study suggested that it could have a positive impact on self-esteem and problem-solving skills.
This isn’t necessarily the case with other parenting styles.
For example, while authoritarian parenting can lead to kids growing into obedient and skilled adults, explains Metcalf, it can also cause them to be less happy, socially competent, or develop self-esteem issues and fear of failure.
Liz Weissman-Young, an education specialist and virtual parent educator, says, “Permissive parents who are unable to effectively and consistently set boundaries for their children often unknowingly foster insecure attachments with their children through this lack of structure.”
This can result in kids not developing self-regulation skills, issues with authority, relationship issues, and poor performance in school.
As for uninvolved parenting, says Metcalf, “Children who experience this parenting style usually rank the lowest in all of life’s domains, lack self-control, have low self-esteem, and can be less competent than their peers.”
Several studies, including a
- helping children form secure relationship attachments
- reducing anger and resentment in children toward their parents (because kids feel appreciated and respected)
- reducing parenting stress and burnout
- promoting self-reliance
- boosting self-esteem and confidence
- fostering better communication and social skills in children
- teaching emotional control and regulation
- helping children grow into happier, more capable, and successful adults
The biggest con of authoritative parenting is that it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to every parent, and some find it difficult to maintain over time, especially if they’re going through periods of stress in their own lives.
“[Authoritative parenting] takes effort, consistency, and patience,” says Weissman-Young, “which is difficult if parents are not receiving sufficient support or do not have the tools they need to parent in this way.”
If you find it difficult to adopt this parenting style at first or find yourself feeling stressed at times, consider going easy on yourself. Losing your patience or slipping up every now and then isn’t going to undo everything you’ve built. It’s OK to evolve as a parent.
Ultimately, the key to being an authoritative parent is to strive to be communicative with your child, as well as a good role model. To do that, sometimes you might benefit from asking for help yourself from your partner, family, friends, or even a therapist.
Authoritative parenting is a highly effective parenting style that allows you to set boundaries and expectations for your children while also providing them with the love, patience, warmth, and support they need to grow into well-adjusted adults.
It’s not always the easiest parenting style to adopt — or maintain — but it can help you and your kid develop a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship over time.