The Authoritative Parenting Style Works, According To Experts — But What Is It Really?

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authoritative parenting

Bad news? Your kid probably isn’t going to get out of childhood totally unscathed by your parenting. The good news? You’re here, which means you care. Caring counts for a lot in the parenting realm. And the truth is, no one makes it out of childhood without a few quote-unquote battle scars — humans are inherently imperfect, so our parenting is too. Having said that, we all want to do our best to minimize the mess-ups, right? This naturally makes us seek out insight into different parenting styles. While psychologists have identified four core styles — authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved, as well as the more modern and recent styles like positive, free-range, or attachment parenting— we’ll be breaking down examples of authoritative parenting and how it impacts your child in the long run.

While there is literally not one style of parenting, and they go beyond these four specific types, identifying what unique approach works for you, your kids, and your family is what’s ultimately most important.

What is authoritative parenting?

It helps before diving into the definition of a parenting style to think about the styles in terms of a square with four quadrants. Each quadrant signifies a combination of a parent’s demandingness of their child and their responsiveness to their child’s needs. The top left quadrant would be authoritarian (high demandingness, low responsiveness), the lower left quadrant would be uninvolved (low demandingness, low responsiveness), the lower right quadrant would be permissive (low demandingness, high responsiveness) and, finally, the top right quadrant would be authoritative (high demandingness, high responsiveness).

“Authoritative parenting is characterized by being firm but fair. It represents the middle ground between passivity and aggression,” Damon Nailer, a parent educator with the Children’s Coalition of Northeast Louisiana, explained to Scary Mommy. “The characteristics of this type of parenting include clear rules/boundaries; reasonable expectations; open, two-way communication; consistent positive discipline; nurturing care; and quality time spent interacting/bonding.”

Not surprisingly then, authoritative parenting is generally looked upon by psychologists as the happy medium and most desirable of the four styles.

What is an example of authoritative parenting?

So, now you know that an authoritative parent is firm, yet nurturing. They set reasonable expectations and support their children in meeting those expectations. Dr. Fran Walfish — Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV, and WEtv — describes an authoritative parent as an “approachable” parent. She elaborated, “This person can be reasoned with. This parent has the ability to hold things together. They are great at managing a crisis. This parent is dependable. You can predict the response you will get from them.”

What does that look like in real life? We asked Suzie Zeldin, the co-founder of SmartSitting: a childcare agency that supports families by providing personalized childcare and creating meaningful relationships between parents, children, and the babysitters/nannies who care for them. In order to foster these healthy relationships, Zeldin encourages an authoritative approach from both parents and caregivers. Plus, as she told us, she and her husband rely on authoritative parenting with their own children.

“We take a lot of time explaining things to our toddler and we hold him accountable for his actions, even at the young age of three. For example, we’ll take the time to explain that if he throws his matchbox car again, we’re going to put it up on a high shelf and he can have it back at the end of the day. We’ll explain that throwing matchbox cars is dangerous and can hurt people, like his little brother. We want to keep everyone safe, so if we see him throwing his matchbox cars, we will have to take them away,” Zeldin explained.

“We do this with a lot of love and care, remaining calm and deliberate the whole time,” she continued. “If he throws that matchbox car, we follow through with our words. We don’t put it up on the shelf angrily or in frustration; we simply execute on our boundary and then help him handle his feelings (oh boy, there are feelings!).”

Authoritative parenting examples from the media

Sometimes, the best way to find examples of authoritative parenting is by looking at movies and television. Seeing someone in the role is a good way to identify what kind of technique this really is.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Danny Tanner from Full House. Danny loved his daughters and believed in them, but let them learn from their mistakes.
  • Mary Poppins. The character helped create boundaries while also making the children feel loved and appreciated
  • Adam and Kristina Braverman from Parenthood. They talk to their kids and take their input to heart, showcasing that their thoughts and feelings matter regardless of age and experience.

What does authoritative parenting look like through the years?

Being a parent who agrees with this mindset means different challenges as your children get older. We went ahead and laid out examples of authoritative parenting through the different ages of your child, including infant, toddler, child, and teen.

Authoritative Parenting: Infant

  • Parents will always be calm and loving towards a new infant.
  • They’ll realize that any kind of sleep interruption or infant concern is merely part of their life cycle.
  • They know it’s not possible to spoil an infant.

Authoritative Parenting: Toddler

  • Parents will need to validate their toddler’s emotions.
  • A toddler’s parents may try to offer a warning before an immediate punishment.
  • Their child can get a second chance to correct themselves.
  • A parent may find themselves rewarding a toddler with stickers or small prizes until they reach their goal, celebrating every step forward.

Authoritative Parenting: Child

  • Parents will understand their child’s emotions and won’t disregard them.
  • They may let children make small choices, like what fruit to eat with lunch or what to wear.
  • They will also allow their children to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • They’ll listen to what their child has to say, even if it’s repetitive.

Authoritative Parenting: Teen

  • Parents will likely have a set of household rules they trust their teen will follow.
  • Teens will also understand more about the safety risks of their bad choices.
  • Nothing is off-limits or sugarcoated when it comes to authoritative parenting. Parents are more prone to discuss possible consequences prior to a teen acting out.
  • Consequences will also serve as lessons. Teens will remember what they learned from their actions and it’ll become a milestone moment in their life.
  • Parents will view their teen as an individual, and not just a reflection of themselves.

Does authoritative parenting work?

You probably already have a sneaking suspicion the answer here is yes, right? Granted, all parents are different and there are countless variables to consider that may influence the effectiveness of any given parenting style. However, the general consensus is that authoritative parenting is the way to go.

“Parenting experts and scientific research support the idea that the authoritative parenting style (high in both demandingness and support) is the most successful at raising well-adjusted children, although parenting approaches are highly culturally specific and this idea may not hold true in all cultures,” said Your Parenting Mojo podcast creator Jen Lumanlan. “Children need to understand that parents can function as a ‘container’ for them — we set expectations for their behavior that form a framework, and allow them freedom within that framework. Authoritarian parenting in Western cultures is the style most likely to raise children who grow up believing that their parents’ values are the ones they want to use to raise their own children.”

What are the possible effects of authoritative parenting on a child?

The combination of clear expectations, firm boundaries, and plenty of nurturing can have incredible benefits for kids. Children from these homes are often:

  • more cheerful
  • more willing to discuss their lives with their parents
  • academically successful
  • more understanding of life’s consequences
  • socially accepted
  • independent
  • cooperative
  • tend to model their own parenting after this balanced approach

Of course, that isn’t to say that every single child of authoritative parents will experience the same outcome.

Does authoritative parenting look the same in every family?

“Although this applies to most people, there is also another factor at play, which is the ‘goodness of fit’ model,” cautioned Cohen, adding, “This suggests that some kids, due to their unique temperament, might need a different style to excel. Additionally, there are some cultures where authoritarian parenting has far more positive outcomes than in the U.S.”

In many cultures, this type of parenting isn’t very popular. Many religious families also have a set structure where authoritative parenting just wouldn’t fit in. It’s also key to note that a Western codification of parenting styles cannot easily be applied to every background. Psychologist Ruth Chao argued any analysis of parenting styles should reflect nuanced sociocultural contexts. Long story short, every household runs differently.

What are some desirable outcomes of children with authoritative parents?

Aside from being successful both socially and academically, children with authoritative parents seem to be able to manage mental health a bit better. While everyone can have cases of anxiety or depression — and nobody’s necessarily “safe” from those struggles — kids raised this way have scientifically proven to have lower numbers of reports.

Scientifically, children of authoritative parents also had lower reports of childhood delinquency and drug use. They seem happier with their lives.

What is the difference between authoritative parenting and authoritarian parenting?

On the surface level, it’s easy to confuse these two. After all, the words look and sound nearly identical! But they’re actually pretty far apart in terms of approach and efficacy:

  • “The difference between authoritarian and authoritative parenting is that the authoritarian parent is typically extremely firm and rigid. High emphasis is placed on rules and regulations without much flexibility; some of the expectations are too high and unrealistic; the communication is one-way; and there is not much time spent bonding and interacting,” said Nailer.
  • Authoritative parenting is still firm. But, there’s a pronounced warmth involved in authoritative parenting that you won’t find with authoritarian parenting.
  • “Authoritative parenting is one of the most effective parenting styles because it empowers the child to become independent. They are allowed to make decisions and communicate their opinions without facing harsh consequences,” said Nailer.” “It enables the child to become confident due to receiving affection, support, and praise. And it helps the child developmentally, emotionally, and spiritually as a result of receiving adequate attention and appropriate correction.”

What is the difference between authoritative and permissive parenting?

While both types of parents value their child’s emotional well-being above all else, there are a few key differences:

  • Authoritative parents don’t eschew discipline or age-appropriate punishment like permissive parents do.
  • Unlike their counterpart, authoritative parents enforce fair rules for their children, all while making clear the reasoning behind them.
  • Authoritative parents don’t avoid conflict at all cost when it comes to their children.
  • Where permissive parents resort to bribing to get their children to behave, authoritative parents have no problem saying no if need be.
  • Authoritative parents set clear boundaries, expectations, and are consistent.

What should you do if one parent is authoritative and the other is not?

Listen, it happens! In fact, that’s pretty much how partnerships and marriages work — you’re not always going to be on the same page. If you are, you should be placed in a giant glass cloche for study and observation.

Even parents who are mostly on the same page sometimes find themselves butting heads. In these instances, each parent should play to their strengths. As Zeldin, who has adopted an authoritative parenting approach along with her husband, confessed, “Despite my best efforts, I lean more permissive than my husband, which frequently backfires and it can be harder for me to keep my big little one in line. Since I can be more permissive, he pushes me more.”

In any case, communication is key. “I always recommend communicating your goals for your children so that others can support you by participating and reinforcing what you’re establishing in your home. This goes for spouses, extended family, and childcare providers. It all comes back to communication,” underscored Zeldin. “At the end of the day, we’re all going to have our outlying moments. Moments of being too permissive. Or not permissive enough, or too strict. Or too rushed or too frustrated to explain something to our kids. Just remember, it’s all the in-between moments that truly add up!”

What should you do if you realize you’re an authoritative parent?

Um, stay the course? In all seriousness, keep up the good work but don’t forget to give yourself grace in those moments where you veer more toward an authoritarian or indulgent approach. We change as our children do, and there’s no one way to parent all the time.

How can you become a more authoritative parent?

Look at your child and realize they’re not perfect. They may be perfect to you, but they may make mistakes along the way. Try to use punishments that aren’t severe. Kids need to learn, but usually explaining their mistakes is a better technique than yelling. You need to treat your child like an individual. Remember that even if the stresses of the day seem minor in comparison to yours, their thoughts and feelings matter.

Try to visualize yourself as a kid. Remember how it felt to be small, and possibly excluded from family events due to age? Authoritative parents want their kids to feel accepted in their family. Include them as much as possible. Positive reinforcement will always be better than negative reinforcement.

What are the other parenting styles?

In the 1960s, a developmental psychologist named Diana Baumrind conducted a series of studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Through that research, she picked up on a pattern: preschoolers exhibited distinctly different types of behavior. Baumrind noticed that the types of behavior the children were displaying were connected to the way they were parented.

From there, she identified three unique parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive or indulgent. In 1983, researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin added a fourth style based on Baumrind’s research: uninvolved or neglectful parenting. These four styles continue to serve as the framework for contemporary models of parenting.

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