Authoritative parenting (balanced parenting)

Authoritative parenting (democratic or balanced parenting) is widely regarded as the conventionally ‘best’ parenting style and is an ideal compromise between permissive and authoritarian parenting. Authoritative parenting places a higher emphasis on structure, rules based order and independence than a Gentle Parenting style, and is more flexible and attentive to the child’s needs than an authoritarian parenting (absolute parenting) style.

“Authoritative parenting is a parenting style characterized by high responsiveness and high demands and is sometimes referred to as “democratic.” It involves a child-centric approach in which parents hold high expectations for their children backed by support and guidance.

Developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind 
Authoritative parenting

Introduction to Authoritative parenting

‘I crave structure, I need to feel safe and I want to know the boundaries and what is right from wrong. I need discipline, routine and security. I want my parents to lovingly guide me and teach me how the world works. I need age appropriate responsibilities and opportunities to learn and make independent decisions as my brain develops’

A childrens needs according to the authoritative parenting style

Authoritative Parenting focuses on providing children with a safe and loving framework and structure to aid their development. It is characterised with high responsiveness to the child, but also high age appropriate expectations of the child. In this way, authoritative parents are very attentive to their children’s needs while also very consistent in enforcing rules, limits, boundaries and structure for the child.

Authoritative parents set the standard and lead by example, consistently demonstrating what they expect from their children. Leading by example is a powerful message and the consistency and repetition gives your child stability and lets them know what to expect – helping them to build a solid foundation. As your child looks to you for leadership and direction, they will mirror you and adopt your behaviors – monkey see, monkey do!

Authoritative parents therefore need to have and a good level of emotional intelligence, show understanding and be able to demonstrate self control and restraint of their emotions so that their children can embrace these behaviors, too.

Characteristics of authoritative parenting

The following are characteristics of Authoritative parenting;

  • Setting rules, limits and boundaries and clearly outlining your expectations and reasonable consequences.
  • Giving your children the opportunity to discuss and have input to household rules on a regular basis
  • Demonstrate a high importance of personal values such as Respect, Dedication, Integrity, Fairness and Teamwork
  • Empower your children to do the right thing rather than coerce or bribe them
  • Place importance on balance, moderation and being ‘well rounded’ over extremism or obsessive behaviors
  • Encourage your children to have a go and try things without a fear of failure, but instead seeing failure as a learning opportunity for the next event – ‘if we fall, we get back up’
  • Encouraging your child to have age appropriate independence, whilst providing them the security to know they can come back for support and guidance if they get stuck
  • Providing consistent and fair enforcement of discipline according to the rules
  • Fostering emotional development by encouraging discussion of feelings and opinions, and listening to your child
  • Providing a secure and trusting environment for your child.
  • Encouraging responsibility, independence and reasoning by providing your child with age appropriate tasks or chores.

Authoritative parenting statements

Authoritative parents will typically identify with the following statements;

  • I listen to my child and consider their wishes and feelings before asking them to do something
  • I respect my child’s opinion and encourage them to express them even when they are contrary to my own
  • I provide my child with reasonable expectations
  • I encourage my child to talk to me about their feelings and opinions
  • I want to help my child when they are scared or upset
  • I consistently and fairly enforce discipline whenever the rules have been broken

An example of Authoritative parenting on discipline

Consider the example of a child misbehaving at school; getting into a physical confrontation with another child resulting in injuries and damage to property – and as an end a result getting suspended from school.

An authoritative parent will tend to focus on inductive discipline – which is trying to get their child to understand the effect of their actions on others, and how they fit into their role in society as a whole. They may act in the following way;

  • Listen to the child’s point of view and to understand why they acted the way they did – for example they might have been protecting someone from a bully, or may have been defending themselves. Clearly then, this will influence your response based on an understanding of ‘just’ or ‘righteous’ behavior.
  • Sit down for a heartfelt discussion to explain why we shouldn’t resort to physical violence when we don’t get our way, and how problems and conflicts can be resolved peacefully using negotiation using our words. This is especially powerful when using age appropriate and relatable examples from the parents life such as previous family disputes.
  • If appropriate – remove certain freedoms such as ‘grounding’ the child for a period of time, or removing privileges such as games, toys or access to the internet or phone. The child must respect your authority and this demonstrates your position as the leader and provider in the family.
  • If appropriate – require the child to make amends for the behavior by apologising to the other child and to their teacher for their inappropriate actions, and repairing or replacing items they have damaged.
  • Guide the child forward in a constructive and positive way, such as through encouraging arbitration or negotiation with the other child – which might be done by teachers through school or involve you and the other child’s parents. Gosh knows how many close friends I have made that all started with fights!

An authoritarian parent on the other hand may be quick to ‘fly off the handle’ without all of the facts; Yelling at the child, invoking severe punishments or even smacking the child. You can clearly see how responding to the child’s violent misbehavior with violence sends a confusing and potentially destructive message to the child – this does not lead by example, this does not set the example and if anything, I think it reinforces that violence is acceptable.

Conversely, a permissive parent might take the opposite approach and simply assume that their child’s behavior was justified. They might defend their child’s actions, or simply act as if the misbehavior was ‘no big deal’ and not use this as a learning opportunity to help develop their child. They do not enforce that this behavior is wrong, and are implicit in encouraging it to happen again.

Benefits of authoritative Parenting

Research has repeatedly shown that children raised by authoritative parents tend to be more capable, happy, and successful.

Developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind 

Children of Authoritative parents grow up knowing that they are responsible for their actions and must be accountable to their goals. Authoritative parents encourage their children achieve their goals by making time to help them with (but not doing it for them), and encouraging them to ‘have a go’ and learn from failure if needed.

This helps empower kids to make good decisions, work hard and be studious as well as have strong moral courage and be less susceptible to peer pressure.

Because of this hard work and guided support, Children of authoritative parents will typically be quite capable and successful. This leads to developing more independence, and a good sense of self image, self worth and confidence.

Because authoritative parents also place value on emotional understanding and social skills, as well as allowing certain freedoms, it is likely their children will be more emotionally resilient, have greater self control and respect for others and boundaries. This resilience is incredibly important in developing independence as it allows them to bounce back from challenging situations and failure.

Ultimately, children of authoritative parents have the best chance at becoming well rounded leaders. Because of their independence, capability, decision making ability, emotional intelligence and confidence, they are naturally drawn to leadership roles and positions of authority.

Drawbacks of authoritative Parenting

One of biggest drawbacks of authoritative parenting is that like many endeavors in life, you won’t always see immediate results. Just like with the slow start to compound interest in your investments, this can lead to the ‘valley of despair’ which is encountered early on in any exponential relationship – this is where significant effort is expended without seeing any immediate results, and can lead many to give up or change strategies out of desperation.

You need to be patient, and trust that this will work in the long term. This is especially true as children will naturally go through different phases of growth and emotional development where they may begin to rebel, push the boundaries or have difficulty dealing with extreme fluctuations of mood such as puberty.

This is normal, but can feel difficult to authoritative parents who might not be used to being directly challenged directly, who have high expectations, or who are used to being able to use logic and reason to problem solve and apply discipline. Authoritative parents should continue to be responsive to your childs changing needs, but remain firm and consisently enforce the consequences of disciplinary issues.

Ways to become a more authoritative parent

  • Listen to your child and their needs
  • Validate your child’s emotional feelings – let them now it is ok to feel the way they do
  • Be considerate of your child’s feelings and opinions
  • Establish clear rules and consistently enforce them
  • Provide clear and stern warnings for small problems to remind your child of boundaries without over reacting.
  • Use real consequences that teach life lessons – for example if you fail to put away the toys, they get taken away.
  • Offer incentives to help motivate (but not bribe) your child.
  • Give your child choices over small decisions – for example ‘would you like to clean your room before dinner or after dinner’
  • Provide age appropriate responsibility with your guidance – for example a 10 year old could be responsible for feeding a pet
  • Explore mistakes as learning opportunities
  • Encourage self discipline
  • Prioritse the relationship with your child

Authoritative parenting example one: work and play

Authoritative parents will set clear expectations of their children when it comes to work and playtime. This might be through establishing a chores roster or developing a schedule for the child (i.e. allocating time for homework, chores and play), but authoritative parents must ultimately work together and communicate effectively with their children to establish a clear understanding of exactly what must be done, why and when.

Authoritative parenting example two: Food

Food and treats can be a challenging subject for parents, especially when children might have poor self regulation, is experiencing weight issues or is being defiant with their food choices (such as only wanting junk food or not eating vegetables).

Authoritative parents will not give children full responsibility over food decisions nor full time access to it, but might work together with the child and listen to their needs – if the child is truly hungry or desperately doesn’t like what they have been given, then an authoritative parent might let or show their child how to make a simple alternative.

Authoritative parenting example three: Screen time

Authoritative parents need to set and enforce clear policies when it comes to screen time. There is clear research showing that screen time must be limited for children as their young minds develop – for example under the age of 2 no screen time at all is recommended.

As a child grows, it is recommended to regulate screen time and thus authoritative parents will allow restricted access to television, tablets, phones, internet etc according to ‘the rules’. These rules are established together, and could be for example ‘one hour of screen time after dinner provided all of your chores have been done’

Should you adopt an Authoritative parenting style?

The Authoritative parenting style has been shown by child behavioral psychologists to be an effective and beneficial parenting style. There is a lot of evidence to show that authoritative parents who are responsive, flexible and consistent in dealing with their child have great success at raising them to be well adjusted, successful adults.

The answer isn’t straight forward though, and whilst Authoritative parenting might sound like a dream goal, every child is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. A parenting style needs to be tailored to your personal circumstance, cultural expectations, the unique relationship you have with your child and ultimately, the behavior of your child. Some children may just require more discipline than others

My take on authoritative parenting for Dads

Personally, an Authoritative parenting style is the parenting style which I think is the best for my circumstances. Without assigning too much importance to gender roles my personal belief is that parenting works best when two parents work together as a team; one using a more authoritative parenting style and the other using a more gentle parenting style.

As a Dad, and with my natural preference for structure and order over creativity, I feel it is my role to set a strong example, ‘be the skipper’ (which means providing leadership and direction for the family), and be able to provide for my family. Thus it leads me more naturally to me adopting the authoritative parenting style.

I personally would prefer my wife to have a gentler parenting style with a focus more on bonding and creativity and less of a focus on discipline and structure. This delineation is supported by research, which shows that having at least one authoritative parent has a major benefits for the child [Fletcher,1999].

Summary of authoritative parenting

Authoritative parenting is highly regarded as one of the best and most effective parenting styles with the best overall results for the development of your child. It is best accomplished by leading by example, and setting a strong role model for your child.

Authoritative parenting sits between Authoritarian (absolute or obedience parenting) and Permissive parenting (freedom parenting). It leans to the ‘right’ side of the parenting spectrum with a higher focus on a logical rules based order with clear boundaries and consequences, sets age appropriate responsibilities to help guide your children and is complemented with inductive discipline and encouraging emotional understanding and development in your child.

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