I remember the night I brought my baby home from the hospital. I had spent months leading up to her birth buying her clothes, setting up her nursery, and organizing things like pre-prepared meals and such. However, the night we came home as a family of three, I began to think beyond the practical and more about the “how” of parenting. How would I act as a parent, and how would I help my child grow and develop? Would I use an authoritative parenting style?
What I had been thinking about was something that, for many parents, is innate or ingrained, but for many, they intentionally choose a parenting style. A parenting style is your approach to interactions with your child, which develops their character. Four key parenting styles are determined by your level of demandingness (or expectations) and responsiveness. They are:1,2
- Authoritarian: high demand and low responsiveness
- Authoritative: high demand and high responsiveness
- Permissive: low demand and high responsiveness
- Neglectful: low demand and low responsiveness
What is an Authoritative Parenting Style?
This might sound a little confusing, but a parenting style is a combination of how high our expectations are of our children and how engaged and responsive we are to them and their needs. It creates four parenting styles that influence how our children grow and develop. The two most common parenting styles are authoritarian and authoritative. The difference between the two is the level of support and engagement of the parent, as both have high expectations of the child. Authoritarian parents have high expectations but do not provide the support or resources necessary for their children to succeed, while authoritative parenting does provide support.3
Qualities of an Authoritative Parent
Characteristics of an authoritative parent include the following:1,3
- Having fair and consistent rules and boundaries, as well as discipline and consequences
- Providing their children a safe space to express their opinions and demonstrating they are listening and interested in their child
- Being warm and nurturing
- Allowing their child to be independent based on their needs, capacity, and developmental level
Effects of Authoritative Parenting
Although parenting styles are unique to each family, authoritative parenting is generally seen as an effective approach. Research tells us that children raised by parents who use an authoritative style are more independent and confident, have higher self-esteem, have a higher social IQ, are better at regulating themselves, have better quality relationships, are more creative, and subsequently are better problem solvers, and, perhaps most telling, they are happier.1,3,4
Experts believe authoritative parenting is effective partly because of how the parent presents and engages with their child. Authoritative parents tend to demonstrate and model behaviors they expect rather than demand certain behaviors. Because of this consistency in what they see and what is expected of them, children clearly understand and feel confident in their ability to copy and replicate this.4,5
Authoritative parenting encourages independence but provides a safe landing if the child needs comfort. This gives a sense of safety, so they feel more secure and confident to explore their environment and make mistakes, an essential part of learning. In turn, they feel capable of achieving things on their own. This sense of satisfaction gives them a strong sense of self-esteem and mastery.4,5
How To Be an Authoritative Parent
There are some keys to becoming an authoritative parent, like the following:4,5
1. Have Clear and Consistent Boundaries and Consequences
Have clear boundaries and rules and ensure they are consistent and age or developmentally appropriate. Also, ensure consequences are clear, consistent, and natural so they can link their behavior and an outcome clearly. A natural consequence fits the misdemeanor. For example, if your child isn’t sharing a toy, then a natural consequence might be that they can no longer play with that toy. A consequence that isn’t linked and might not make sense to a child is having to go to their room for not sharing a toy.
2. Meet Challenges with Curiosity Rather Than Judgment
Being frustrated or upset is easy when our kids misbehave or act out. But if you come with curiosity rather than judgment or punishment, you are more likely to keep your relationship strong. You’ll also be better able to see what is underlying certain issues, which makes it easier to support your child through challenges.
3. Encourage Independence
Based on your child’s age and developmental level, allow them to make some choices in their life. It will let them know you trust them and allow them to explore their identity safely. This could be allowing them to choose their clothes or shoes, or perhaps they could help pack their lunch box or choose a dinner recipe.
4. Be Warm and Compassionate
This doesn’t mean you don’t need consequences or boundaries but try to offer your child compassion, warmth, and empathy, even during challenging times. This helps ensure a strong, mutually safe, and supportive relationship.
5. Let Your Child Make Mistakes
Mistakes are how we all learn. Try not to hover too much, but provide support if things go wrong. Safety is more important than learning opportunities, so jump in if it’s critical to do so.
Your relationship with your child shapes how they see the world and influences their growth and development. This relationship provides a safe space for your child to learn about and express themselves. Authoritative parenting offers a great framework for supporting your child in a nurturing, fair, warm, and empathetic way to help them grow into a happy, confident young child.