A Guide To An Authoritative Parenting Style

Since the 1960s, the authoritative parenting style has reigned supreme in parenting literature.

Research since that time has consistently reported that children raised in authoritative households using an authoritative parenting style have better outcomes in almost every area that we consider important in the growth of a child.

Children raised by authoritative parents are said to:

  • Become independent and self-confident
  • Do very well at school
  • Have empathy for others
  • Are co-operative with peers
  • Respect societal norms

A caveat before I go any further. My wife and I are authoritative parents, although to be honest, my children’s mother would say that I had a harder time towing the authoritative parenting line, all too willing to retreat in the face of my children’s protests.

Asked to parent again with young children, we would still use an authoritative parenting style.

So what is it about authoritative parenting that makes it so popular?

The term “ authoritative parenting” was coined in 1966 by Diana Baumrind who wrote of four different parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, neglectful and authoritative, and of these four, the authoritative parenting style has been consistently viewed as the most effective in raising a child.

Interestingly, the authoritative parenting style is probably the hardest one to enact as it demands a  commitment to a style of interaction between parent and child that is long-term and involved.

Ten Essential Qualities of Effective Authoritative Parenting:

studying1. Authoritative Parenting creates a culture within the family unit that consists of high academic and behavioral expectations for the child. 

Authoritative Parenting allows for flexibility within these high expectations and avoids rigidity in the approach.

Setting expectations is at the core of authoritative parenting. Authoritative parents develop clear and fair behavioral guidelines for their children.

These guidelines are age appropriate and flexible, taking into consideration the child’s temperament- clear and consistent, but not rigid.       

2. Authoritative Parenting creates clear rules for the children in the family that are designed to benefit the child by providing structure and security. 

Within the structure of predictable expectations and consequences, children can gain the security they need to grow more independent over time. 

Authoritative parenting, done well, builds an environment of trust between parent and child that allows for healthy communications and interactions that over time become more important.

Authoritative parenting understands that children will make mistakes and break the rules of the family.  However, authoritative parents use these times as an opportunity to help the child to learn and grow.

3. Authoritative Parenting understands that the key to this style of parenting lies in the centrality of effective communication between all family members. 

Authoritative parents make the family rules and expectations clear, consistent, and manageable for the child.

Authoritative parenting requires the parents to act as role models for their children, and to walk the walk; not just talk the talk.

Authoritative parenting requires that parents and children actively listen to each other rather than talk over each other.  This requires much practice and discipline to ensure it works well.

4. Authoritative Parenting requires that children are part of the decision-making process when possible, while the parents retain the right of final say and decision.

Authoritative parenting is working well when children believe that their voice is heard within the family and is respected.

Authoritative parenting requires parents to sometimes allow “the chips to fall where they may.”

A child may make a decision that has consequences they need to face.  Hopefully, there has been enough such moments for the child before the consequences become too great.

5. Authoritative Parenting shifts the role of parents from being “sage on the stage” making decisions for the child, to becoming the “coach on the sideline”, offering advice and guidance, but allowing the child to play independently.

Authoritative parenting requires that parents learn to take a back seat with their child at one level, while subtly remaining involved and making decisions with the other.

As parents will tell you, especially those of adolescents, this requires them walking a tightrope,  providing encouragement and understanding one minute while acting as the heavy the next. You will fall off often!

6. Authoritative Parenting works really well when parents remember the old rule of thumb: that the most satisfying family relationships consist of parents giving at least 5 positive comments to 1 negative one to their child.

Research is clear over time that we simply do not praise enough as parents.  Children live in a society that tells them from age 5 upwards and school that they are less than perfect, They face consistent negative comments from school and peers.

Authoritative parents seek to balance this through consistent, but realistic praise.

Authoritative parents are skilled at using negative feedback. Negative criticisms are important because it makes the child pay attention, reminds the child of the family norms, and helps the child guard against complacency.

family-silhouette7. Authoritative Parenting lets the parents and children build trust between them.  This is especially important in adolescence. 

With authoritative parenting, the family acts as a bank; positive behaviors and meeting expectations allows the child to make consistent deposits in the “ trust bank.” 

Failures in these two areas lead to withdrawals being made.  Hopefully, the child’s account remains in the black.

8. Authoritative Parenting requires that the family spend time together as a unit.  Building that emotional bond between the family members is essential for success.

Authoritative parenting helps to build love within the family by clearly defining what is important.

Authoritative parents put their pants on in the same way each day; they accept their child for who he/she is; they show unconditional love and a safety net when mistakes are made.

9. Authoritative Parenting encourages parents to find multiple ways in which their child may grow.

Academic experiences should not be limited to just the classroom, as it is often inadequate to the task.  Family trips to museums and landmarks, competitions, outdoor challenges and exploratory learning in the arts are all to be encouraged as they all build confidence and esteem.

Social-emotional experiences involving a child encourage empathy, a concern for others, and help build leadership skills.

10. Authoritative Parenting uses consistent and appropriate consequences.

Authoritative parenting does not advocate spanking.

Authoritative parenting does not believe in one rule fits all- age, circumstances, etc must be taken into account.

So, if the authoritarian style of parenting is popular, so well-received,  and a widespread practice, why are there criticisms of it?

Those critics of the authoritative style suggest that it is really an authoritarian-light style of parenting:

  • The most important focus is on the parents wielding of ultimate authority over the child.
  • It is too dependent on the parent creating rules and the child accepting them
  • Love within the family is not unconditional, but conditional based on acceptance and carrying out the rules
  • Consequences that authoritative parenting proponents view as positive are still really punitive measures designed to punish the child
  • It may hurt the child’s self-esteem if the authoritative parenting style is such that it discourages the child’s voice.
  • A child has a natural need for independence that may be retarded by the parent’s qualifiers.
  • Authoritative parenting hurts the relationship with the parent by creating a transactional relationship in which one is dependent on the other.

Authoritative parenting is embraced most by warm, loving parents that produce rules and expectations for their child’s security.

Such parents expect the best from their children, but are supportive.

If you believe it is for you, bear in mind that authoritative parenting requires time and effort and must be learned and perfected with practice.