What exactly is authoritative parenting? And how can it help you raise a healthy and well-behaved child? Learn more about it right here.
You’d think being a parent—such an important and difficult role—would come with a user manual reassuring us we know what we’re doing. Instead, we base our decisions on how we grew up, what we’ve read or heard, or from our circle of friends and families.
No wonder we feel lost at times, or second guess our decisions.
But there is an effective parenting style that many experts say is the best way to go. One that balances rules and high standards with nurture and love. Kids raised this way not only grow up to become successful adults, but have a strong relationship with their parents. What’s the style of parenting?
What is authoritative parenting?
Authoritative parenting is one of the four styles of parenting. The other three styles are:
- Authoritarian: Parents have high demands and expectations but without feedback or support.
- Permissive: Parents nurture and behave more like friends, with little or inconsistent rules.
- Neglectful: Parents make no demands and are indifferent and dismissive to their children.
Neglectful parenting combines the worst traits, with no demands or warmth for their children. Meanwhile, the characteristics of authoritative parenting take the best traits of the other two parenting styles.
This style offers the warmth of permissive parenting with the high demands of an authoritarian parenting style. We expect a lot from our kids and will enforce boundaries, but also give them the resources and support to succeed.
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How to practice authoritative parenting
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The book Grit by Angela Duckworth shows parents how to balance being warm, supportive, and demanding. The author describes how we can provide positive reinforcement as well as have appropriate expectations and demands of our kids.
In this article, I’ll share tips on the three parts of the authoritative parenting style:
- Providing unconditional love and warmth
- Offering space and support
- Holding high expectations
Provide unconditional love and warmth
Kids need to feel loved above all else. As obvious as this may seem, we don’t always provide that warm support, especially when we’re busy, angry, or make unreasonable demands. We might also believe that doing so makes us “soft,” or doesn’t provide the boundaries they need.
But it turns out, they’re more likely to do their best when we show that we’re in their corner, no matter what. Here’s how to make sure you’re providing your child’s needs with warmth and support:
1. Be there for your kids when they have a problem
Right now, your child’s mistakes and troubles are simple: She told a lie about eating a cookie for lunch or keeps forgetting to do an assignment for school.
But what happens when she’s a teenager and is in bigger trouble? What if she crashed the car, broke rules during a game, or feels overwhelmed with her load of school work?
You’d want her to be able to turn to you for support without fear of punishment or judgment. To know she can count on you. That your first response isn’t to get down on her for her mistakes, but to make sure she’s okay and that you’ll support her no matter what.
She should be able to come to you for anything and know that you’ll stick by her side. Be the reliable anchor she knows will always stand in her corner.
2. Spend time talking to your child
I’ve come home from picking up the kids from school and will sometimes go straight into chores-mode that I forget to engage with them in the first place. I’d cook, wash their lunch dishes, and figure they’re keeping themselves busy enough that they didn’t need me.
But kids want to spend time with us, even for as little as a few minutes before they start their own play time. Talk to your toddler with no agenda other than to listen to what he has to say. Discuss what he learned from the book, or lounge on the couch as he describes her drawing.
Simple interactions provide the warmth and empathy he craves.
3. Do fun things together
What do you and your child enjoy doing? Besides talking with each other, spend time doing fun activities. From simple crafts at home to hiking trips in the mountains, you’re developing a close relationship and bond together.
And find one-on-one time as well, even if you have other kids. Make your outings and activities something special only the two of you usually do.
4. Praise your child for doing well
An authoritative approach has high expectations balanced with praising kids, from academic achievement to meeting milestones and goals. You don’t want to praise your child too much or for every little thing, but she needs to know she has your support and guidance.
Offering praise reassures her that she’s doing fine and is on the right path. It’d be pretty hard to know she’s doing well when she gets no positive feedback.
Offer space and support
So far, we learned a few ways to provide the warmth your child needs. With authoritative parenting, we also give kids the space, support, and respect they need to grow. After all, we can smother them with love and warmth, but they can still feel stifled.
Take a look at a few ways to support your child with the space and respect he needs:
5. Respect and encourage your child’s point of view
You and your child are two separate people with different opinions. As a parent, it’s tempting to force your views on him, especially when you’re factually correct or are bent on raising him a certain way.
But forcing your views as the only correct way dismisses his opinions. Even if you know you’re right, allow him to hold onto his opinions, respecting them as valid thoughts he has formed on his own.
And encourage him to question authority, even when it’s popular not to do so. By welcoming different points of view, you’re respecting his thinking process and values, even if they differ from your own.
6. Respect your child’s privacy
From bathroom use to keeping thoughts to herself, your child needs privacy even a parent shouldn’t cross. We all crave a private space even those closest to us aren’t allowed inside.
Don’t take her need for privacy personally—it’s not about you. Instead, allow her to keep things to herself while reminding her that you’re always available to listen.
My son loves to draw and share his comics with us, but has kept a few private that even we’re not allowed to see. He considers these his “first drafts” and feels embarrassed to show them to anyone.
While I’ll never laugh at or mock his first drafts, I can also understand his need to shield them from others and his preference to keep them to himself. Demanding that he show them to others disrespects and discourages him from sharing anything at all.
7. Give your child autonomy
You’d think that hovering over your child would make sure he does his best and prevent any harm from happening to him.
But he needs the autonomy to make mistakes, stumble, and learn how to cope. With autonomy, he knows you believe in his abilities, from doing his own homework to climbing the tall playground structure.
One way to give autonomy is to offer age-appropriate activities that don’t need you to hover in the first place. If an assignment is too hard or a play structure is too risky, then don’t make those available.
After all, you wouldn’t put a six-month-old baby on a 10-foot play structure, but a five-year-old will likely be able to handle it on his own.
And embrace those mistakes! As Duckworth writes:
“…around the time children enter kindergarten, they begin to notice that their mistakes inspire certain reactions in grown-ups. What do we do? We frown. Our cheeks flush a bit. We rush over to our little ones to point out that they’ve done something wrong. And what’s the lesson we’re teaching? Embarrassment. Fear. Shame.”
8. Give your child choices
Including your child in some decisions not only motivates her to follow through, but empowers her with the freedom of choice. In fact, giving children choices can avoid tantrums or convince a reluctant child to comply.
The key is to stick to choices you’d be happy with. Choosing between the red or green shirt is fine, but you shouldn’t ask her to choose between getting in the car or staying at the grocery forever.
Hold high expectations
Demands and expectations get a bad rap. You might imagine the strict parent with no flexibility and expects perfection every time. But reasonable demands, combined with warmth and support, make kids perform and behave better.
In fact, they’ll act according to expectations—whether those expectations are set high or low is up to you. Here’s how to set high expectations in a loving and supportive way:
9. Expect your child to fulfill responsibilities
Kids need boundaries. Left to their own devices, they’ll run wild with little guidance to show them the way. Set and follow through with rules you expect your child to follow so she knows what she should do.
While you should pick your battles from time to time, a regular pattern of letting her get away doesn’t give him the limits she needs. She wants you to set clear expectations, not only so she understands how to behave, but to know she’s loved enough for someone to enforce them.
10. Share ways your child can improve
Permissive parenting doesn’t point out ways kids can improve, for fear that doing so will sever the love a child will feel toward her parent. But with an authoritative style, you can give your child feedback that will help her improve and guide her toward the right path.
Kids aren’t perfect, and we do them a disservice by praising every little thing. Instead, they need to know, in a loving way, how they can improve. Think of yourself as a teacher—how else can a student improve if the teacher doesn’t show her how?
11. Expect your kids to do their best, even when it’s hard
Watching your child stumble, make mistakes, and feel disappointed is hard for any parent. We’re tempted to save them from struggle, or pave an easier path so they don’t fail.
But teaching your child grit and perseverance is one of the best things you can do for her, through childhood and into adult life. She won’t let obstacles get in the way or hold her back. She’ll know she can keep trying and finish strong, even when it’s hard.
As most things with parenthood, balance is key. We want to be available to our kids without suffocating their freedom and autonomy. We set high demands and expectations while praising them for their hard work.
Authoritative parenting can help you raise a well-rounded, loved, and independent child. It takes the good parts of other parenting styles and balances them toward the middle.
Parenthood may not come with a user manual. But now you can build a strong relationship with your child—one with warmth, support, and high expectations.
Get more tips:
- How to Raise Kids Who Want to Behave (Even when No One Is Looking)
- 5 Mistakes Parents Make When Giving Choices
- How to Stop Feeling Stressed and Start Enjoying Parenthood
- 5 Parenting Myths: Are You Making These Mistakes?
- Top 8 Qualities of a Mother
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