How the Authoritative Parenting Style Impacts a Child's Behavior

Attentive boy looking at his mother
How you parent matters. (Image: yacobchuk/iStock/GettyImages)

As parents, we all know the importance of consistency, structure, boundaries, and follow-through when it comes to disciplining our children. However, we also know that treating our children with kindness, respect, and dignity while enforcing consequences gets us much further than humiliation, threats, yelling, and physical force do. But to accomplish this, you need a lot of trial and error, a little bit of luck, and a solid parenting style to follow.

If you were to ask any parent what their particular style of parenting is, there's a good chance you'd get an answer that ranges from authoritarian and strict to permissive and free-range — and often, somewhere in between. But one style of parenting, in particular, that seems to come up often in mom's groups, doctor's offices, and the pick-up line at school, is authoritative parenting.

Parents who adhere to this style borrow from both the permissive and the strict versions. Even though each child will respond differently to a particular style, authoritative parenting seems to offer a balanced approach that works for most kids and parents.

Support and Warmth

Authoritative parents who really "walk the walk" tend toward moderation. They have high demands, but also high levels of responsiveness to their children. They are supporting but not smothering; they are nurturing and responsive. Authoritative parents set high standards, shows respect for their children and expects maturity and cooperation.

When it comes to discipline, authoritative parents don’t allow their child to get away with bad behavior, but they enforce consequences with love and respect. They expect their children to follow the rules but are also warm and encourage a verbal give-and-take, rather than just issuing an order as a strict parent might do.

Authoritative parents are unlikely to try and control their child through shaming, harsh punishments or withdrawal of love. Instead, they offer support, warmth, encouragement, and consistency, regardless of the child's behavior.

Effects on Children

The authoritative style of parenting seems to result in children who are independent, self-reliant, socially accepted, academically successful and well-behaved. Kids who are raised with this style of parenting often do better at school since they know how to problem-solve and advocate for themselves. This style also results in kids who have better mental health overall.

The warmth of authoritative parents offers children an opportunity to discuss their feelings and strengthen attachments with their parents. This style of parenting may also result in children who turn to their parents for advice about tough decisions rather than relying on peers.

On the other hand, kids who are raised by authoritarian parents, are given high expectations (more like demands with little to no support) and their parents tend to have a low responsiveness to them. This style produces children who are unhappy, insecure and have more behavior problems.

The other end of the parenting spectrum is where permissive parents land. They are known as indulgent and place few demands on their child. Plus, they respond to everything their child needs or wants. These kids often have difficulty following rules, they struggle with advocating for themselves, exhibit poor self-control and have difficulty regulating their emotions.

Inductive Discipline

When it comes to discipline, authoritative parents have the best shot at shaping their kid's behavior. Discipline looks different depending on the action, the child's age, and even the emotional maturity of the child, but there is one constant that authoritative parents practice: discipline with kindness and respect.

They see actions and the resulting consequences as a way for their child to learn how to make better choices in the future. Because of this, authoritative parents take the time to explain the "why" of the discipline or consequences. They also take the time to explain the rules and the reasons for them ahead of time, rather than just laying down the law when trouble occurs.

Parents appeal to the child’s desire to be “grown-up” and to help them accept rules, standards, and boundaries while emphasizing the effect of the child’s behavior on others in order to promote empathy. The discussions that result offer children a chance to learn about moral reasoning. This aspect of authoritative parenting is often referred to as inductive discipline, and it seems to help children become more helpful, empathetic, conscientious and kind to others.

Balance Is Key

While all three styles of parenting have their place, the middle ground that authoritative parenting offers seems to be a balanced and healthy place for most parents to land.

If you follow the path of an authoritative parent, you have a better chance of maintaining the warmth and affection of the relationship with your child. And your child has a safer and supportive environment to help them meet and even exceed your high standards.

Discipling with dignity, talking with your kids rather than at them, and giving them the positive attention they crave can help you stay connected to your kids, even during the difficult times...and there will be a lot of those.

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