Authoritative Parenting Characteristics and Effects

Authoritative parenting is characterized by reasonable demands and high responsiveness. While authoritative 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. This approach to parenting avoids punishment and threats and instead relies on strategies such as positive reinforcement.

Authoritative parenting
Verywell / Hugo Lin

Brief History

During the 1960s, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind described three different types of parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. These types were 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 backed by support and guidance.

Traditionally, the authoritative parenting style has been identified as the most effective and helpful to a child; research suggests that parents should flexibly deploy parenting techniques based on their personal goals and the unique behaviors of each child.

Characteristics

According to Baumrind, authoritative parents share some common characteristics. Traits they exhibit include:

  • Administering fair and consistent discipline when rules are broken
  • Allowing their children to express opinions
  • Encouraging their children to discuss options
  • Expressing warmth and nurturing
  • Fostering independence and reasoning
  • Listening to their children
  • Placing limits, consequences, and expectations on their children's behavior

While the expectations of authoritative parents are high, these kinds of parents also tend to be flexible. If there are extenuating circumstances, authoritative parents will adjust their response accordingly.

Parents with this style are able to adjust and adapt their approach depending on the situation, their child's needs, and other factors that may be present. Discipline, then, takes into account all variables, including the child’s behavior, the situation, and so on.

Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Styles

These characteristics can be contrasted with the authoritarian parenting style, which 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. How each boy's parents deal with the situation characterizes the differences between these parenting styles.

Authoritative Parents

When the boy with authoritative parents finally arrives home, he receives a fair punishment that fits the nature of the transgression. An example of how authoritative parenting might look in this situation:

  • 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.
  • His parents are supportive and encourage him not to engage in such behavior again.

Authoritarian Parents

The other boy has authoritarian parents, so his consequences look quite different. An example of how authoritarian parenting might look in this circumstance:

  • When he arrives home, he is yelled at by both parents.
  • His father spanks him.
  • His father orders him to spend the rest of the night in his room without dinner.

The child with authoritarian parents was disciplined, but with support and guidance for encouraging the desired future behavior. The child with authoritarian parents, on the other hand, was not given support or love and received no feedback or guidance about why the theft was wrong.

Effects

In the past, child development experts influenced by Baumrind's work generally identified the authoritative parenting style as the best approach to parenting.

Research has repeatedly shown that children raised by authoritative parents tend to be more capable, happy, and successful.

According to Baumrind, children of authoritative parents:

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

Why It Works

Authoritative parents act as role models and exhibit the same behaviors they expect from their children. Because of this, their 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.

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

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

Some parents are naturally more authoritative than authoritarian or permissive. However, this doesn't mean that you cannot adopt a more authoritative style, even though it is not your natural default.

Attempting to moderate your parenting style may mean that you will have to remain mindful of your actions while you work to develop the habits of an authoritative parenting style. 

A Word From Verywell

If you are interested in becoming a more authoritative parent, there are some things you can do that may help. It can be helpful 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 start by letting your child make more decisions, but also have regular discussions about those choices. With time, attention, and flexibility to your child's needs, this parenting method will become more natural.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Baumrind D. Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs. 1967:75(1):43-88.

  2. Smetana JG. Current research on parenting styles, dimensions, and beliefs. Curr Opin Psychol. 2017;15:19-25. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.02.012

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