Authoritative parenting, which combines warmth and limit-setting, is considered the best approach to rearing children. It is associated with positive academic performance and mental health. If you’re interested in adopting this approach, consider attending therapy with someone who specializes in parenting and family issues.
What Is Authoritative Parenting?
There are four common parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved.1 Uninvolved parents make virtually no demands of their children, nor do they offer any real support. Authoritarian parents strictly enforce rules and limits but lack warmth. Children of these parents tend to perform poorly in school and have lower self-esteem. Permissive parents are loving, but don’t enforce rules or limits. Authoritative parents combine warmth and love with rules and limits. This style has been linked to emotional stability, healthy coping, and life satisfaction.
Courtney Aldrich, Program Instructor for Child and Family Development at Michigan State University says, “authoritative parents recognize their role as a teacher for their children.”
When experts talk about parenting, they also distinguish between two dimensions: demandingness and responsiveness.2 Demandingness refers to the degree that parents monitor, enforce rules and limits, and maintain mature expectations for their children. Responsiveness describes how accepting parents are of their children’s emotional state and needs. Each parenting style varies on how much they emphasize these two dimensions.
Authoritative parents are high on both demandingness and responsiveness.2 They tend to be caring, supportive, and attentive to their children’s needs.3 At the same time, they establish rules and set boundaries. While they are open to hearing how their children feel about rules, they remain firm. In fact, tiger parenting borrows a lot of the beneficial aspects of authoritative parenting.
Children of authoritative parents tend to be happy, sociable, cooperative, and motivated.
Characteristics of Authoritative Parents
Typically, authoritative parents are both warm and loving toward their children, while also providing them with firm expectations and rules. Aldrich says they learn to approach conflict calmly and with empathy and compassion “instead of anger and yelling.”
Characteristics of authoritative parents include:1,2
- Express love and acceptance toward their children
- Expect their children to follow rules
- Explain rules to their children to help them understand why certain behaviors are unacceptable
- Are consistent in their rules and expectations
- Give children room to make mistakes and develop healthy independence as they grow older
- Remain open to hearing children’s thoughts and feelings
- Maintain rules and limits even if children have negative reactions to them
- Discipline children in a supportive, rather than punitive, manner
Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Parenting
Authoritarian parents, on the other hand, are high on demandingness and low on responsiveness.2 They tend to have strict rules and high expectations for their children, but lack the warmth of authoritative parents. Rather than explaining the rationale for rules, which conveys love and respect, authoritarian parents demand obedience without explanation. This parenting style is linked to poor self-esteem and low confidence in children.4
The chart below explains the difference between authoritative and authoritarian parents in five categories:
|Authoritative Parenting||Authoritarian Parenting|
|Demandingness||Maintains rules and expectations while explaining rationale for rules||Maintains rules and expectations while demanding obedience without explanation|
|Responsiveness||Responsive and warm||Unresponsive and cold|
|Communication||Positive and open||Limited or negative|
|Discipline||Consistent and non-punitive||Punitive|
|Control||Moderate level of control with room for independence||High level of control|
What Are the Advantages of Authoritative Parenting?
When it comes to academics, children of authoritative parents are likely to perform better in school.5 Authoritative parents also tend to be involved in their schooling and encourage achievement and independence when it comes to career exploration, fostering further success. Adolescents of authoritative parents are also more likely to be intrinsically motivated, meaning they’re motivated by internal factors vs. external rewards.6
Authoritative parenting does not only have a positive impact on children’s academic performance, but also their emotional well-being. This style is linked to higher self-esteem and confidence and lower rates of depression in children.4,7 Research shows that authoritative parenting can even protect against adolescent smoking and drinking.8
The open style of communication that is characteristic of authoritative parenting can also be positive for children. One study found that this parenting style was linked to more open communication with daughters about dating and safe sex practices.9
Authoritative Parenting Examples
Authoritative parenting can be beneficial in a variety of child-rearing scenarios, including instances of violence, excessive screen time, academic issues, and alcohol use.
Here are four examples of how authoritative parenting can be implemented:
Your toddler is arguing with his one-year-old brother over a toy and ends up hitting the baby out of anger. An authoritative parent would step in, take the toy, and say “I see that you are angry, but we do not hit. Your brother is hurt and crying. Let’s see if he is okay and figure out how we can help him.” The parent then encourages the older child to check on the younger sibling and help them calm down. Toddlers are just learning how to regulate their emotions, so it is normal for them to struggle with anger. You want to teach them that violence is an unacceptable response to anger and encourage them to have empathy for others.
2. Screen Time
Your 10-year-old is glued to their electronic device and refuses to hand it over when you say their time is up. An authoritative parent would create a limit, such as 20 minutes of “screen time” per day, explain why the limit is in place, and offer an alternative activity. They may say “Too much screen time isn’t good for us, so how about we go outside to play instead.” This parent is open to hearing how their child feels about this limit, but sticks to it regardless.
Your 14-year-old failed another exam because he didn’t study. This is the third time despite previous warnings. An authoritative parent would consider what is getting in the way of studying. For example, is the child distracted by video games, social media, or talking to friends. Or is the child dealing with attention issues or a potential learning disability. If there appears to be a learning issue, the parent may contact the school and/or a professional to discuss how to intervene. If the child is simply not prioritizing studying, the parent would discuss their concerns with the child and brainstorm ways to structure their time more effectively. The parent may also consider a reward system as an incentive to study.
4. Alcohol Use
You find a bottle of alcohol in your 16-year-old’s bedroom. An authoritative parent would first ask their child about this and give them an opportunity to be truthful. This may evolve into a conversation about the dangers of underage drinking and the parent’s concerns with this behavior. The teen is also given an opportunity to talk about their experiences with peer pressure and struggles to say “No.” The parent would offer some suggestions and support and may either choose a fair punishment or provide the teen with a warning if it is the first offense.
Are There Drawbacks to an Authoritative Parenting Style?
While there are no specific drawbacks to this style, there is no “one size fits all” way to parent. Every parent needs to take their own child’s needs and personality into account. For example, it is recommended that parents of children on the autism spectrum take a flexible approach.1o This may mean taking an authoritarian or permissive approach at times depending upon the specific situation.
5 Tips For Developing an Authoritative Parenting Style
Authoritative parents expect their children to obey their rules and meet their expectations, but in a manner that is warm, loving, and responsive to their needs. You too can adopt an authoritative parenting style by expressing positive feelings, setting firm limits, explaining rules, practicing patience, and using punishment fairly.
Aldrich says, “It is important to start small, working on one element of your parent at a time. A parent might choose to start by working on developing rules and routines around things like expectations at mealtimes, limits around technology use, or chores.”
Here are five tips to develop an authoritative parenting style:
1. Express Love & Warmth
Open communication is one component of an authoritative style. Expressing positive feelings toward your children makes them feel loved, cared for, and appreciated. Make an effort to express your love to your children and affirm their positive qualities, such as creativity, kindness, or motivation when it comes to school or athletics.
2. Set Firm Limits
Authoritative parents maintain rules and limits for their children. These rules are reasonable and in the best interest of the child. Consider what limits you would like to set for your child depending upon their age. Make a list and keep it in an area that is accessible to the whole family. Be sure to be consistent in enforcing these rules. Children may react negatively at first, but with consistent parenting over time, they will learn what is expected of them.
3. Explain Your Rules & Expectations to Your Children
Providing an explanation of your rules and expectations conveys respect and helps children understand your rationale. A short, simple explanation like “We do not hit people because it hurts them” is sufficient for young children. Older children and teens may need more in-depth explanation. You can also give your child an opportunity to ask questions and share their feelings, but you do not bend your rules because your child dislikes them.
4. Practice Patience
It can be hard to remain patient when your own buttons are being pushed. It is okay to feel frustrated with your children at times, but it is important to cope with this frustration rather than taking it out on your child. Giving yourself a “time-out” when you get angry is one helpful way to calm down. It also models self-care for your child.
5. Use Punishment Fairly & Consistently
When children break rules, authoritative parents hold them accountable in a manner that is non-punitive. The punishment is fair, non-violent, and aims to teach children. For example, a child that borrows an item and forgets to put it away may be told that they cannot borrow the item again for a week. Another child who uses a bad word after being warned once before may be told that they cannot watch television for the night. The specific form of punishment will depend upon what the child does, their age, and maturity level.
How Therapy Can Help Parents Adapt Their Style
There are many therapists, including psychologists, social workers, and counselors, that specialize in working with families and parents. Some may have additional training or certifications in parenting coaching. Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) primarily focus on working with couples and families.
There are several types of therapy to help you improve your parenting skills. Individual therapy allows you to meet one-on-one with a therapist who can help you identify your areas of struggle and teach you new skills. Family therapy with your partner and/or children present may also be helpful in some cases. During family therapy, a therapist can see how you interact with your children and help you work on these problem areas in session. They can provide direct feedback and an opportunity to practice. Lastly, parenting groups can provide an opportunity to learn new strategies in a group setting.
How to Find a Therapist to Help With Your Parenting Style
To find a mental health professional, see the Choosing Therapy directory, which allows you to narrow your search down by speciality, area of expertise, budget, and experience. You can find local therapists for in-person or video-based therapy. The directory also allows you to view therapists’ profiles to get a sense of their personality. Once you find a therapist that matches your needs, you can reach out by phone or email for an appointment.
Authoritative parenting is a positive approach to parenting that involves warmth, open communication, consistent rules and limits, and non-punitive punishment. Aldrich says that while this style may take longer in the short-term, “the payoff is that in the end, your children will learn self-control, self-responsibility, accountability, and problem-solving.”
Research also shows that there are many benefits to this approach, including a positive impact on children’s academic performance and emotional well-being. If you would like help adopting an authoritative parenting style, you may benefit from seeing a therapist that specializes in this area.