How to tow the fine line between authoritarian and authoritative parenting.
Once our babies grow up, parenting becomes less about encouraging first steps and words and more about encouraging positive, healthy behaviors. As your child starts testing their limits and boundaries, you’ll discover more about what parenting style works best for you and your family. Many parents choose to adopt an authoritative parenting style, so keep reading to learn more about this style and how it differs from the others.
The authoritative parenting style is when parents are warm and sensitive with their children but at the same time set limits, using positive reinforcement and reasoning with their kids to avoid punishments. These parents have a more moderate approach, being nurturing and responsive with their children, expecting cooperation while offering emotional support.
Some specific characteristics of this style are that they are rational with their children to direct them, try to encourage their expression, validate their emotions, and reason with their rules. With this reasoning, they teach kids to seek the reasons behind the rules and let them express their conformity or doubts, cope with the natural consequences of their actions, and give them feedback about them —but not in a strict way, like authoritarian parents.
Differences between the authoritarian vs authoritative styles
It’s easy to mistake authoritativeness with authoritarian parenting, but the approach characteristics are far from similar. Here are the differences between the authoritarian vs authoritative styles.
- Have high expectations for their children.
- Are highly responsive.
- Initiate an open line of communication that takes into account a child’s feelings, opinions, and preferences.
- Set basic limits, but also provide support and guidance to meet these expectations.
- Have high expectations for their children.
- Lack of warmth and responsiveness.
- Have a “my way or the highway” approach to decision-making and demand unquestioning obedience.
- Set strict rules without proper guidance.
Tips for authoritative parents
- Remember that parenting is basically an advanced form of serve-and-return. With babies, serve and return are back and forth interactions where you focus your attention on your baby’s needs and help them or respond to them. With this, parents are sensitive to their child’s signals and provide them with a good environment. As your child grows, they will pay attention to the way you behave and then determine appropriate responses. The stronger your interactions are, the better off your child will be.
- Listen to your little one and take into account their attributes, abilities, and developmental level (e.g., an eight-year-old can remember to always take their shoes off before entering the house, whereas a three-year-old may not).
- Explain why something is correct or incorrect so your child understands their actions.
- Set clear boundaries and instructions and be consistent with enforcement.
- Validate your kid’s feelings and try to listen when they have something to say.
- Praise positive behavior in your child.
Benefits of the authoritative parenting style
- It impacts positively on cause and effect reasoning. When a behavior has a direct consequence that has already been explained to them, children will understand better the consequences of their actions and that they are responsible for their decisions.
- Helps you form a close, nurturing relationship with your little one.
- Research suggests that children raised by authoritative parents are more likely to become independent, self-reliant, socially accepted, academically successful, well-behaved, with good emotional control and regulation, and have happier dispositions.
- The authoritative parenting style lets children make mistakes and learn from them, helping them to build resilience and letting them overcome life challenges, and leading them to increase their confidence.
- As children grow, they can have a bigger sense of leadership, since they have learned to make their own decisions, giving them the confidence to take on leadership roles.
- Parents with this style help create spaces in their home where children can feel safe and secure, having a secure attachment with them.
- Children raised with the authoritative parenting style have stronger emotional regulatory skills since they learn these skills when their parents help them express and deal with unpleasant feelings.
- Authoritative parents are more open-minded, since they are adaptable and willing to provide explanations to their kids, and this openness helps their children develop good communication skills.
Challenges for authoritative parents
- It’s a demanding style that requires a lot of self-control, patience, and consistency.
- Authoritative parenting doesn’t always work for every child in a multi-children home.
- Both parents or caregivers need to adhere to similar standards but be flexible when changes occur.
- Enforcing limits without harsh consequences can be challenging.
- Kids’ phases of rebellion may be difficult for this style of parenting, because of the high expectations parents have for their little ones.
What does an authoritative parenting style look like?
- It encourages kids to talk about their feelings.
- It respects the child’s opinion and encourages them to express it.
- It provides children with reasons for expectations about them.
What is not an authoritative parenting style?
- Letting children get away with unfinished chores.
- Explode in anger with your kids.
- Punish your kids by backing out.
Other parenting styles
There are two other parenting styles aside from authoritative and authoritarian, one is permissive parenting, which shares similarities with the authoritative style. However, the permissive style doesn’t set clear rules and isn’t consistent with discipline —unlike authoritative, which sets basic limits. This parenting style can be warm with their kids but has trouble saying “no” to their wishes; leading children to have poor self-control and an egocentric or problematic development with other people.
The other parenting style is neglectful parenting, being the opposite of the authoritative. Here, parents are disengaged from their children, without expectations, rules, or emotional attachment. They are not involved with their kids and are indifferent to their needs or wishes. This usually leads children to have low emotional intelligence and other personal problems in their development.
As we mentioned above, the authoritative parenting style has many positive outcomes in children, but it also requires a lot of patience as a parent, since it is primarily based on your communication and reasoning with your children. So, as an authoritative parent, remember it is important to have good communication skills with your kids, validate your little one’s feelings, set limits, and use positive reinforcement!
- Building serve and return with your little one
- Parenting styles (part I)
- Talking it out: Parenting styles (part II)
Olivia Maitret is a psychologist with a minor in Education and a Masters in Brief Systemic Therapy. She is a mindfulness instructor, trained on the treatment of Learning Disabilities. Olivia spent 4 years as a Preschool teacher, 3 years as a school counselor, and trains children in meditation. She is a family psychotherapist and feels excited to support parents and teachers from around the world in their essential participation in child development.