What is authoritative parenting and is it a style you want to try? We spoke to an expert and here’s all you need to know

Those who implement authoritative parenting are said to raise strong independent characters who have respect for their parents

Authoritative parenting, as illustrated by a confident child being lifted by his father
(Image credit: PeopleImages/Getty)

Authoritative parenting might not be what you think it is - our expert told us everything there is to know about the method, and why it's so wildly different to authoritarian parenting.

 Although it might sound slightly regimental, authoritative parenting isn’t entirely different from gentle parenting. Parents choosing this style remain nurturing and responsive to their child’s needs, but limit unwanted behaviour with firm rules - they listen to what their child has to say, but use discussion and reasoning if they don’t accept their child’s opinion. The authoritative method has been linked with beneficial outcomes for children in areas of life including relationships, academic outcomes, and mental health. Parents who implement authoritative parenting have reported feeling content and enjoying their parenting journey. 

To understand more about authoritative parenting, we spoke to Childcare Consultant, Ashley Board. Ashley told us "Children raised in authoritative households are happy because they feel listened to and respected whilst also thriving in a safe and secure environment. Correct authoritative parenting is what true gentle parenting is - though gentle parenting is often mistaken for permissive parenting by parents who misunderstand how to implement it correctly. It is being in tune with your child and responding to their emotional and physical needs as well as their need for autonomy whilst also establishing firm and healthy boundaries, respect and societal contribution. It is supporting emotional development skills and helping them through difficulties instead of distracting past emotional distress or giving in to their emotional outbursts."

This article will look at what authoritative parenting entails, with an expert sharing examples to relate to real parenting scenarios. As with the controversial tiger parenting method, there are pros and cons to authoritative parenting - we outline what these are, to help inform your decision in choosing whether it’s right for you. After considering signs that you might be an authoritative parent, we offer signposting to further resources to assist your parenting style choice.

What is authoritative parenting?

It's when parents are responsive to their child’s needs and act warmly towards them while enforcing clear standards. Consistent boundaries guided by collaborative reasoning and cooperation are the cornerstones of this style.

Authoritative parenting was defined by developmental psychologist Diane Baumrind, in 1966. Baumrind suggested classifying parents concerning how they chose to control their child’s behaviour. She initially placed parents into three major categories - permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative. In the 1980s, psychologists Eleanor and John Martin added a further style - neglectful parenting.

Ashley Board told us, "Research shows children’s developing brains need consistency and boundaries to encourage growth and development, yet their brains are emotionally immature. Other parenting methods do not allow for the understanding and development of emotional intelligence while also instilling boundaries and consistency, allowing the brain to evolve and advance to its full potential instead of focusing solely on need."

What is an example of authoritative parenting?

From Ashley’s perspective and experience of authoritative parenting, she offered us the following practical examples:

Example: A child has a meltdown because they cannot watch more of their TV programme.

Action: A parent verbally sympathises with the child and offer physical support through a hug but maintain the boundary of no and explain why more TV is not allowed at that moment but when TV time might be allowed at another point in time.

Explanation: It allows the child to feel emotionally unstable and supported when they cannot control their distress but the boundary does not change, whilst offering them information which grants them control or focus. Through explanation a parent can offer the development of emotional intelligence and understanding for a child as they begin to understand more about why boundaries exist and why our emotions do not serve as a gateway to our own desires.

What our writer learned

After speaking to experts and undertaking further research around authoritative parenting, I can clearly see how different it is to the similarly named authoritarian parenting. With a better understanding of the underpinning concepts and the clear benefits, I see it as an amalgamation of the best bits from a lot of other popular parenting methods. I didn’t enter into a particular style of parenting when my own children were very young but they’re still little enough for me to be so impressed with what I’ve learned about authoritative parenting, to try and implement the principles into our everyday life.

Example: A child wants to climb on dangerous or breakable furniture or against a house rule.

Action: The parent verbally explains that this activity is not allowed and the reasons why it is not a good choice and ask them to refrain. If the child continues with the behaviour the parent should explain again why the activity is not allowed and again the reasons why. They should physically remove the child from the activity and verbally involve the child in finding a solution for what they can climb instead if that is a need. Even if the child becomes distressed the parent should offer verbal or emotional support during the distress and once the child has calmed (emotionally distressed children should not be attempted to reason with) offer solutions for an approved activity. The child will not be allowed to continue the activity.

Explanation: Information gives the child more autonomy in their choices than just being told ‘no’. Physical removal from an activity demonstrates the physical boundary, whilst working together to find a solution feeds their desire for control and autonomy in a more pleasing outcome for a parent. Waiting and supporting a child in emotional distress ensures that communication is effective as trying to discuss with a child in emotional instability is likely to worsen a situation. It is crucial to assess each situational need and adapt to emotional support or reason, never both simultaneously.

Authoritative Vs authoritarian parenting

Although the terms sound similar, they are actually quite different concepts. While authoritative parents enforce their boundaries and standards, they do so with warmth and sensitivity. Authoritarian parents on the other hand, focus on obedience without reasoning. They require rigid rules to be adhered to with no explanation, sometimes turning to punishments and psychological control to obtain compliance.

Authoritarian parents don’t encourage communication, actively discouraging their child from expressing themselves, or having an opinion. While authoritative parents still have high expectations when it comes to rules, they remain reasonable and implemented with loving and warm guidance. Children of authoritative parents usually feel safe and secure in their attachments, while authoritarian parenting has been linked to children developing depression, anxiety, aggression, and ongoing issues with self-esteem. 

12 signs you're an authoritative parent

  1. You set clear boundaries and expectations for your children, but communicate these with warmth and understanding.
  2. You offer children the chance to participate in discussion relating to house rules.
  3. When your children engage in discussions with you, they act with respect, and you notice they show respect for others outside of your home.
  4. You openly display interest in your child’s point of view, even if you don’t agree.
  5. You allow your children to fail, but guide them to learn from their mistakes, and ask you for help if they need it.
  6. Discipline in your household focuses on empowering your children to make the right choices, rather than frightening or controlling them.
  7. You respond to your children’s needs with kindness and warmth, while maintaining the standards you’ve set with them.
  8. You respect your child's individuality, and place emphasis on them becoming a well-rounded person who will become a meaningful member of their community.
  9. Your children still have the freedom to express themselves within the rules of your household, because they’re realistic and attainable, and don’t stifle creativity.
  10. You strive to nurture and love your children, while gently encouraging them to try new things.
  11. You notice your child has the skills to make good decisions, and they take responsibility for their choices.
  12. Your children feel secure and loved, while remaining mindful of their behaviour and the need to show you respect.

The pros and cons of authoritative parenting

With many studies highlighting the benefits of authoritative parenting, it’s quite difficult to find any cons. Psychologists and childcare experts praise everything from the method’s ability to improve overall life satisfaction, to the positive effects on development, and social and academic success. Ashley believes it to be the benchmark parents should strive for, telling us "Authoritative parenting is what all parents should be aiming to achieve. Research shows that authoritative parenting leads to the most beneficial outcomes for children in all areas of life."

However, some critics of the style have suggested the high expectations for behaviour standards set by parents using it, could create a sense of anxiety in children. There has also been suggestions that as children get older and engage in rebellious behaviours, conflict could be more likely to emerge when high behavioural standards aren’t adhered to - this could result in parents losing patience with the method and needing to restrategise.

Overall, authoritative parenting is widely celebrated and adopted as a popular method for raising happy, resilient children.

Where to find additional help with parenting styles

Ashley Board, Childcare Expert
Ashley Board

Ashley Board is a professional Nanny and Childcare Consultant of 13+ years, and founder of Expert Parent. She has dedicated her life to her passion, and holds a Child Development and Psychology degree as well as other specialist childcare qualifications. She is a sought after 1:1 Childcare Consultant in London where she advises on all things sleep training, behaviour modification and everyday care.

As a parent herself she has the unique and combined perspective of expertise in hands-on child-raising, and development and psychology. Ashley understands the struggles and emotional toll children have on their parents. Through her Expert Parent website, you can access Ashley’s expertise, tips and tricks. She offers many courses to start a journey of becoming an Expert Parent, joining the tribe of families enjoying the benefits and expertise of her experience.

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Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.