Every parent knows how hard it is to obtain and maintain a sense of balance between being too strict and too permissive. While most of us have our own parenting style, certain ways of rearing children seem to produce healthier kids and happier families. According to the work of developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind, the authoritative style of parenting offers the best example for parents to follow.
What exactly is authoritative parenting? It is a method that allows parents to express love without losing authority. It honors children’s needs and desires and takes their viewpoint into account. Keep reading to learn more about authoritative parenting and get tips on how to become a more authoritative mom or dad.
Baumrind’s Styles of Parenting
Each of the parenting styles identified by Baumrind describe different ways of relating to children. The four styles she identified are:
- Authoritarian: Parents set and enforce rules in a strict, demanding and critical way. It’s a no-nonsense, inflexible parenting style.
- Authoritative: Strikes a healthy balance between authoritarian and permissive parenting.
- Permissive: Parents have a strong attachment to their children. They don’t set clear rules or enforce limits. They give in to their children’s demands.
- Uninvolved: The opposite of authoritarian parenting, this is a hands-off, neglectful parenting style. Parents have no expectations or rules, and aren’t attached to their kids.
How can I find out which type of parent I am?
First, realize that there are no hard-and-fast rules on how each type of parent behaves. In fact, most parents admit having used each of the different styles at some point or situation in life. Few parents adhere to one style all the time. Most parents experience a good bit of overlap between styles.
Each child in the family is different as well. So your child’s response to your parenting may differ by child even though your behavior is consistent.
Take this brief parenting style quiz. Ask yourself the following questions, then calculate your answers:
- Your three-year-old is refusing to eat dinner. You know she likes the food you prepared, but she is crying for waffles instead. Do you:
- Make her sit at the table until she eats the meal you made.
- Tell her you understand she wants waffles, and she can have them for breakfast. But now she needs to eat something on her plate if she’s hungry.
- Make her waffles.
- Ignore her cries and look away as she raids the cookie jar later.
- Your fourth-grader has a book report due tomorrow, but you find him playing Xbox instead of doing his homework. Do you:
- Yell at him for being irresponsible, unplug the Xbox and threaten to sell it online.
- Let him know that you understand that playing video games is more fun than homework, but you expect him to finish his report first. Turn off the Xbox, redirect him to his desk and ask if he needs help with anything to finish his homework.
- Let him keep playing and beg him to do the homework later on.
- Allow him unlimited gaming time and don’t follow up to see if he finished the paper or not.
- You discover that your teenager was up chatting with friends all night instead of sleeping. Do you:
- Snap at her for disobeying you, then take away her laptop and phone, shouting that she’ll never get them back.
- Remind her that you have rules on internet use and make sure she understands when she’s allowed to be online. Tell her if it happens again, she will only have access on the weekends.
- Tell her you wish she wouldn’t do that, but that you trust her to make the right decision tonight.
- Ignore it. All teenagers do this.
If your answers were mostly “A”, you have an authoritarian parenting style. If you selected “B” most often, you are already practicing the principles of authoritative parenting. “C” answers are indicative of a permissive parenting style, while “D” responses point toward an uninvolved parent.
Children who are raised with authoritative parenting enjoy certain benefits. Studies, such as the one linked here, show evidence that kids parented in this style are more likely to become happy, well-adjusted adults. Benefits for children fall into several categories:
- Social: Kids who are raised with healthy respect for authority figures tend to do well in a variety of social situations. Children with healthy parental attachment have higher self-confidence and are friendlier than children with insecure parent attachment. They tend to resist peer pressure and make good social choices.
- Emotional: Authoritative parenting creates a safe, secure environment that nurtures strong parent/child attachment. Children raised this way tend to extend the nurturing and listening skills they learn to all their relationships. They are more resilient when facing obstacles, and have good emotional regulation skills. They are less prone to substance abuse and delinquency.
- Educational: Authoritative parents have reasonable, age-appropriate expectations for school behavior and homework. They are present at parent/teacher conferences, school meetings and events. They actively help their kids without doing the work for them. One 2015 study showed that grade point averages in college were higher for students with strong authoritative parents.
- Physical: Because authoritative parents explain and enforce rules related to eating, sleeping and hygiene, these kids receive everything their bodies need to grow healthy and strong. They have fewer chronic health conditions such as cavities and obesity.
Parents who adhere to this parenting style enjoy healthy emotional bonds with their children. Their homes tend to be happier and more peaceful than homes where other parenting styles dominate. These parents usually report that their “let’s talk about it” policy keeps the lines of communication open with their children. Because authoritative parenting helps kids learn how to make good decisions on their own, over time, parenting becomes easier as children grow more independent.
11 Tips for Becoming a More Authoritative Parent
If you recognize that you could be a little more authoritative in your parenting approach, it’s never too late to move in that direction. These 11 tips will help you get started.
- Actively listen to your child when they are talking to you. Put down your phone and give them your undivided attention, even if what they’re talking about is repetitive or long-winded.
- Validate your child’s feelings and emotions. Instead of telling them to stop crying or be quiet, tell them that it’s OK to be sad or mad. Genuinely try to understand their perspective.
- Set clear rules so that your children know your expectations ahead of time.
- Offer one warning for rule violations and tell your child what consequence they will face if they don’t change their behavior. Then follow through.
- Use logical consequences. For example, if a child is playing on his tablet instead of doing a scheduled chore, take the tablet away until the chore is completed. (An illogical consequence would be to tell him he can’t have ice cream after dinner. The ice cream has nothing to do with tablet use or doing chores.)
- Use reasonable rewards for motivation. You don’t want to spoil your child with lavish gifts, but if they are struggling with a particular issue, a reward can help them get on track. For example, if your son fights going to bed at night, create a sticker chart where he earns a sticker each night that he goes to bed peacefully. After so many stickers, reward him with a small treat or outing.
- Encourage independent decision-making. You don’t want to shoulder your child with the responsibility of making major decisions, but you can let her decide whether to wear the blue or red shirt today, or whether she wants an apple or a banana in her lunch box. Making small choices helps kids learn decision-making skills.
- Avoid swooping in to fix everything. If he is struggling to make his bed, you must resist the temptation to step in and do it yourself. Not only does this rob him of the chance to figure out his own way of doing things, it steals the self-confidence he’ll feel when he sees his finished work.
- Show children how to learn from their mistakes. Instead of embarrassing or shaming them for bad behavior, tell them why their choice wasn’t the best one. Ask what they think they should to do to make it better. You may be surprised by the wisdom in their response. If not, problem solve together to help prevent repeating the same mistake again.
- Work on being more flexible and adaptable. Many of the things we stress over as parents end up not being a big deal over time. If you err on the side of strictness, remember to show your kids the same level of grace that you would show your best friend, spouse or coworkers.
- Spend quality time together. Ask your child what they like to do, then make—and keep—plans to enjoy these activities together. If you have several children, it’s important to carve out one-on-one time with each of them on a regular basis so they can have the benefit of your undivided attention.