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What to Know About Authoritative Parenting

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 06, 2022

Authoritative parenting, a healthy balance between setting limits and showing love, is a well-researched and highly regarded parenting style

According to numerous experts in the fields of medicine, child development, and psychology, authoritative parenting can result in children who have a higher degree of overall satisfaction with their lives. There are a few things that you can start doing today to have a more authoritative parenting style.

What Is Authoritative Parenting?

Authoritative parenting is a warm yet firm style of relating to children. This type of engagement helps children feel safe and secure while providing them with healthy rules and boundaries they need to grow and succeed — both in childhood and throughout their lives. 

Authoritative parents aim to nurture and guide. These parents won’t budge when it comes to boundaries. They will let the child know that they are doing so for the child's own good. Rules are not a means to control the child. They are set so that the child stays safe and learns to respect limits.

Authoritative parents respect their children. Respecting the child’s opinion and listening with an open mind is not the same as giving into the child’s every desire. Instead, it means that these parents value their children as whole human beings who will one day grow into adults. 

Authoritative parents meet their children’s needs. Meeting a child's needs and spoiling a child are two different things. Authoritative parents discipline the child when they behave poorly. Authoritative parenting relies on giving the child what they need to develop — including love, engagement, rules, and discipline — that is appropriate for the child's age and developmental level.

What Are Authoritative Parenting Examples?

Authoritative parents come from a wide variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic statuses, but they all share the following traits:

They care for their children but do not micromanage them. Effective parents invest in their child’s physical, emotional, and mental health. An authoritative parent will take the child to routine doctor’s appointments, ensure that the child gets to engage in appropriate hobbies, and keep track of the child’s overall development.

They discipline firmly and consistently. They are able to set limits and discipline their children without being cruel. If a child disobeys their authoritative parent, the parent will simply follow through with the intended, appropriate consequence without becoming upset or overly strict as an authoritarian parent might. 

They act as guides, not as their child’s best friends. An authoritative parent will encourage the child to try new things (and occasionally fail at them) while stepping back. The parent will not confide in the child or share inappropriate personal information.

What Are the Differences Between Authoritative Parenting and Other Parenting Styles?

Authoritative parenting may sound like an unattainable goal. It’s true that it might take time to adopt this parenting style — especially if you grew up with adults who parented you very differently. People with other types of parenting styles are not necessarily bad parents, but they often respond to their children in certain ways that are unhelpful.

Authoritative parenting vs. permissive parenting. Were you ever jealous of your friend who got to stay up until midnight on a school night? Perhaps you were this friend — or maybe your parents let you eat ice cream and drink sugary drinks any time you wanted. Permissive parenting, on the surface, looks great to kids. The parent and the child appear to be best friends, and the child enjoys all kinds of perks if the parent is not actively engaging in discipline or setting true limits with the child.

In the long run, permissive parenting does the child no favors. Children who grow up in a permissive household often have trouble controlling their impulses, setting their own limits, or exhibiting self-control. They may underachieve in school and in life regardless of their intelligence or potential. 

In contrast, children who grow up in authoritative households are typically well-adjusted and good at setting their own limits.

Authoritative parenting vs. authoritarian parenting. Authoritarian parenting is the complete opposite of permissive parenting. This parent might seem controlling, strict, or even scary to the child. Instead of setting realistic limits out of love for the child, the authoritarian parent might focus on micromanaging the child’s life. 

Children who were raised in authoritarian households may struggle with their mental health and self-esteem and feel that they are never good enough for their parents. They may often feel frustrated by the parent’s demands for blind obedience. 

In contrast, children of authoritative parents are more likely to have a healthy respect for household rules and maintain a good relationship with their parents.

Authoritative parenting vs. overprotective parenting. This parent may prevent their child from watching PG-rated movies as a teenager, refuse to let the child go to friends’ houses, or decline to talk about information that the child may find upsetting. These children may seem unsure and “sheltered” from the real world.

Overprotective parenting may stem from good intentions. After all, who doesn’t want to protect their child from harm? But it doesn't allow the child to grow and develop the necessary self-confidence that should accompany adulthood. 

In contrast, children of authoritative parents are more confident in taking risks when they get older because they have practiced succeeding and failing within their parents' household first.

Authoritative parenting vs. neglectful parenting. The neglectful parent is rarely involved in their children’s lives and activities, and their treatment of children may be psychologically or physically abusive. These parents may provide the basic essentials, such as food, shelter, and clothing — or they may not. 

Children raised this way have trouble developing self-esteem. They also may struggle with their identity as they have no true role model to look up to, like an authoritative parent who models the behavior they expect from their children. Sometimes children of neglectful parents “replace” their neglectful parents with other authority figures who may or may not be healthy role models.

How Can Parents Become More Authoritative?

Authoritative parenting pros and cons don’t really exist in the way they do for other types of parenting as there is no true downside to implementing this parenting style. Try these tips to develop a more authoritative style regardless of your background or previous parenting efforts.

  • Involve yourself in your child’s life, but don’t live for them. Step back and let them develop their own interests.
  • Let kids know that you see their effort and make sure to commend them for it. Try to praise children for what they do, not for talents, beauty, or other traits they can't control.
  • Take a close look at your household rules and try to understand your motivation for setting them. Are there too many rules? Too few? Examine whether you wish to help your children learn healthy boundaries — or whether you simply expect your children to obey.

If you are struggling with your parenting style, it’s not too late to change. Even people who grew up with unhealthy parents and families can learn to parent in a consistent and authoritative way with the right kind of help. Consider reaching out to your doctor or counselor for suggestions on developing a healthier, more authoritative parenting style.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Organization: “Parenting Styles.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Parenting Matters.”

Children and Youth Services Review: “The power of authoritative parenting: A cross-national study of effects of exposure to different parenting styles on life satisfaction.”

Michigan State University: “Authoritarian parenting style," “Authoritative parenting style,” “Overprotective parenting style.”

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