Authoritative Parenting: Characteristics and Effects

A parenting style that focuses on balance

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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.

Authoritative parenting
Illustration by Hugo Lin, Verywell

Brief History

During the 1960s, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind described three different types of parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. This was 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.

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, including:

  • They listen to their children
  • They allow their children to express opinions
  • They encourage their children to discuss options
  • They foster independence and reasoning
  • They place limits, consequences, and expectations on their children's behavior
  • They express warmth and nurturing
  • They administer fair and consistent discipline when rules are broken

While their expectations are high, they also tend to be flexible. If there are extenuating circumstances, they will adjust their response accordingly. Discipline, then, takes into account all of the 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. One boy has authoritative parents, so when he finally arrives home, he receives a fair punishment that fits the nature of the transgression. 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, but are supportive and encourage him not to engage in such behavior again.

The other boy has authoritarian parents, so when he arrives home, he is yelled at by both of them. His father spanks him and orders him to spend the rest of the night in his room without dinner. The child’s parents offer little support or love, and 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:

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

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.

The 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 teaches kids that they are capable of accomplishing things on their own, helping to foster strong self-esteem and self-confidence.

A Word From Verywell

Some parents are naturally more authoritative than authoritarian or permissive. However, this doesn't mean that you can't adopt a more authoritative style, even if it's not your default. It may mean that you will have to remain mindful of your actions while you work to develop these habits. 

It might help 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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