Truth be told, there’s no shortage of parenting advice out there. But if you’re looking to be a good parent, psychologists say that one approach is particularly beneficial: authoritative parenting.
Authoritative parents set clear expectations about how they want their children to behave, says Celia I. Mion-Araoz, a licensed mental health counselor with Community Health of South Florida. They reward good behavior, relying on positive reinforcement and natural consequences to guide their children, rather than threats.
This approach to parenting can result in children who are confident and independent.
“The child who has a parent with the more authoritative style tends to be more independent since they are given more choices as long as the end result is what the parent is asking for,”
Stephen Glicksman, a developmental psychologist at Makor Disability Services and Adjunct Associate Professor at Yeshiva University, agrees. He said:
“Research shows that children of authoritative parents grow to be more independent, successful, well adjusted, and happier than children whose parents use other parenting styles. They get along better with peers, and are generally able to better cope with life’s ups and downs.”
Explaining authoritative parenting
Authoritative parenting is one of the primary parenting styles identified by Diana Baumrind, a University of California at Berkeley developmental psychologist who conducted research on the topic the 1960s. The other major parenting styles are authoritarian and permissive parenting.
To understand the styles of parenting, Glicksman recommends thinking about four dimensions of parenting:
- Control: How much parents try to influence their child’s behavior
- Clarity: How clearly parents communicate to their child and how willing they are to give and receive opinions and explanations from their child
- Maturity demands: How much pressure or encouragement parents give their child
- Nurturance: How much warmth and involvement parents give to their child.
Each parenting style balances these dimensions differently.
“A permissive parent is one who may be high on clarity and nurturance, always feeling the need to explain themselves and seeking the approval of their child for whatever parenting decisions they make, but low on control and maturity demands, always allowing the child to have the final say,”
“An authoritarian parent might be high on control and maturity demands, making all the decisions for their child and stressing the importance of success, but low on clarity and nurturance, taking a ‘because I said so’ attitude and punishing a child’s failure to live up to parental expectations.”
Authoritative parenting is strong on all four dimensions. Parents who use this approach set limits (control), and have expectations for how their child should behave (maturity demands). They’re willing to explain their reasoning to children (clarity) and also support them even when they’ve made mistakes (nurturance).
Together, these dimensions build a strong parent-child relationship.
“Kids learn to trust authoritative parents because they know that trust is reciprocal, and that if they do mess up their parents will be there to help them through it,”
Examples of authoritative parenting
Adopting an authoritative approach to parenting is all about clarifying expectations about behavior, and rewarding good behavior with positive consequences. Consider these examples:
- Shopping with a 5-year-old. A parent is taking their 5-year-old child to select a birthday gift for a friend. Before entering the store, the parent sets clear expectations. Glicksman suggests language such as, “Look, we are going to buy a present for Jimmy now, but we aren’t buying any toys for ourselves. Show me you can behave well and help me pick out a nice gift, and we can buy you a special snack when we go grocery shopping later.”
- Talking with teenagers: A parent communicating with a teen about an upcoming party is both understanding and firm. Glicksman suggests language such as, “I know peer pressure can be hard, but underage drinking is illegal and leads lots of kids to do stupid things. I trust you, but if you want to leave the party any time, just call me.” If the teen comes home sober, the parent simply says hello; if the teen comes home drunk, the parent expresses disappointment and says he will not trust him to go to the next party. “That should be punishment enough,” Glicksman says.
Although authoritative parenting relies on reward, that reward can be as simple as acknowledgment from the parent.
“It should be enough for the child to know that they have made their parent proud or that they’ve done the right thing,”
Finding success with authoritative parenting
The key to using authoritative parenting is consistency, Mion-Araoz says. Parents should make their expectations for their children clear, and always acknowledge their kids’ good behaviors.
Of course, every parent will have moments when their parenting is less than ideal — but that’s ok.
“Sometimes they may still say, ‘because I’m the parent,’ but their child learns that when they said that it is because it’s true, not just because they feel the need to be the boss,”
In the long run, authoritative parenting can help children meet other social expectations both in childhood and adulthood.
“We live in a world where authority is a part of everything we do, and your first sense of what authority is comes from your parents, so you have to help children learn boundaries and structure but in a positive, healthy way,”