Authoritative Parenting: Guiding With Warmth and Firmness

Authoritative parentingParenting is rarely taught, so it must be learned quickly on the job.

The parenting styles we adopt may not always be the most effective, but most of us are doing our best with what we know.

And it’s not easy. The parent–child relationship is one of the most complex we form, impacting how families function and how parents connect with their children (Chou et al., 2019).

In this article, we begin by introducing several parenting styles before focusing on authoritative parenting.

We explore how research shows it promotes empathy, compassion, and healthy development before introducing several helpful authoritative parenting techniques.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Parenting Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients identify opportunities to implement positive parenting practices and support healthy child development.

Understanding Authoritative Parenting as a Positive Parenting Style

When it comes to parenting, we all have different approaches regarding how we communicate, establish authority, and form bonds with our children (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022).

Besides authoritative parenting, there are three other common parenting styles that influence how parents raise their children (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022; Chou et al., 2019):

  • Authoritarian parenting
    Authoritarian parents apply strict rules that they expect their child to obey. There is no room for challenge or negation, and failure to follow the rules results in punishment.

Such parents are less nurturing, and the child often rebels against authority in later life.

  • Permissive parenting
    Permissive parents have minimal or no expectations, guidelines, or rules for their children. Parents are typically more like friends, rarely practicing discipline or punishment and giving total freedom to bedtime and eating habits.

As they grow, their children may become “impulsive, demanding, selfish, and lack self-regulation,” often adopting unhealthy lifestyles (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022, para. 9).

  • Uninvolved parenting
    Such parents typically remain separate, not engaged in raising their children. They most likely meet their children’s basic needs yet are limited in communication, discipline, and nurturing.

Children become self-sufficient and resilient as they grow, yet they may have difficulty controlling their emotions, form less helpful coping strategies, experience poor academic results, and have trouble forming and maintaining relationships.

What is authoritative parenting?

Authoritative parenting balances being responsive and being demanding. Authoritative parents “normally develop a close, nurturing relationship with their children” (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022, para. 6) and set clear guidelines and expectations. Such parents clearly explain what is required of their children and why (Chou et al., 2019).

Authoritative parents can show their children empathy, acceptance, warmth, and love, nurturing them while enforcing clear and reasonable rules. Crucially, they encourage young people to think about their behavior according to their values and create an environment suitable for critical thinking (Chou et al., 2019).

The result is that children are involved in constructing and regularly reviewing appropriate and realistic goals and expectations, resulting in regular, ongoing, and healthy communication (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022).

In Tom Weisner’s video “What is the most important influence on child development” and Lael Stone’s on “How to raise emotionally intelligent children,” we learn more about the importance of good parenting and how to provide a suitable environment for growth and flourishing.

What is the most important influence on child development
How to raise emotionally intelligent children

8 Characteristics of an Authoritative Parent

Authoritative parents typically adopt specific approaches and display certain characteristics, including (Mattanah, 2005):

  1. Exhibiting warmth to their children and being responsive to their changing needs
  2. Setting appropriate, not authoritarian limits; creating an environment of optimum control rather than controlling behavior
  3. Offering structure and clear guidance aligned with shared values
  4. Being engaged in the activities and interests of their children
  5. Communicating regularly, both sharing their own thoughts and listening to their children’s
  6. Offering support (sometimes referred to as scaffolding), social skills, and informal coaching as the children learn, interact, and develop as individuals
  7. Encouraging autonomy and leaving space for the child “to explore, solve problems, and struggle towards solutions” while being available if needed (Mattanah, 2005, p. 120)
  8. Affirming the child’s present qualities while setting standards and guidelines for future behavior

In Becky Kennedy’s TEDx talk, “The Single Most Important Parenting Strategy,” we learn how being a good parent involves learning to be better at repairing when things go wrong.

The single most important parenting strategy

2 Authoritative Parenting Examples in Real Life

While we can read about authoritative parenting in textbooks, we must practice it in real environments with our children to improve our skills and create closer connections.

The following are two examples of when and where authoritative parenting can and should happen.

Transitioning and adapting to school

“Children of authoritative parents are more motivated to achieve academically, more satisfied in the classroom, and show fewer externalizing and internalizing behavior problems than children of nonauthoritative parents” (Mattanah, 2005, p. 120).

For that reason, authoritative parenting is vital in academic settings. In fact, when their parents adopted authoritative parenting styles, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder experienced fewer behavioral problems in the classroom (Mattanah, 2005).

It seems for all children, the capacity of parents to set firm limits, have realistic expectations, offer warmth and empathy, and provide stability is vital when they transition into elementary school and beyond (Mattanah, 2005; Hayek et al., 2022).

Encouraging and supporting autonomy and joint decision-making increases intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy in schoolchildren and predicts higher academic achievement (Mattanah, 2005; Hayek et al., 2022).

Interestingly, in the absence of authoritative parenting, adolescents can benefit from similar support offered by schools and communities (Zhou et al., 2022).

Pushing the boundaries in adolescence

Authoritative parenting is vital as children enter their teenage years and begin to push the limits of what is and isn’t acceptable (Chou et al., 2019).

While agreeing on boundaries, limits, and curfews can be a sensitive issue, reinforcing such techniques and strategies can transform parent–child relationships.

When the adolescent asks to stay out later than is reasonable and is vague regarding who they are with and where they will be, it is vital to discuss parental concerns and the young person’s needs openly and frankly.

With empathy and respect, the parent may begin with something like, “We understand you want to stay out later with your friends, and we respect that socializing is a big part of being a teenager” before explaining the concerns and rationale behind their curfew (Morin, 2020).

They can clarify that it’s not about control, but rather concern over the young person’s wellbeing. Having listened to their child’s thoughts, a compromise might be reached that involves keeping their parents informed. The curfew becomes less about limiting freedom and more about building trust (Morin, 2020).

Download 3 Free Positive Parenting Exercises (PDF)

These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients with tools to improve parenting styles and support healthy child development.

What Does the Research Say?

Authoritative parenting has a positive impact on the wellbeing and development of the child, and research even suggests it is the ideal parenting style, providing healthy child adjustment to existing and future environments (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022; Chou et al., 2019).

Benefits of authoritative parenting

Researchers propose that there are many benefits to adopting an authoritative parenting style. Typically, children display the following characteristics (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022; Mattanah, 2005):

  • More confident and responsible
  • Better able to self-regulate and manage their emotions
  • More independent and able to achieve their personal goals
  • Higher levels of self-esteem
  • Improved academic performance
  • More social competence

Downsides of authoritative parenting

This parenting approach typically results in healthy, well-adjusted children. However, there are a few downsides (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022; Mattanah, 2005).

  • Both parents and children must become more patient with one another to identify, understand, and agree on the best way forward.
  • More effort is required for both parties to set agreed-upon and shared guidelines, expectations, and goals.

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How to Practice an Authoritative Parenting Style

How to Practice an Authoritative Parenting StyleParenting is never straightforward and involves multiple approaches, techniques, styles, and, most importantly, patience (Sanvictores & Mendez, 2022; Chou et al., 2019).

The following techniques, practices, and play approaches can help with improving communication, strengthening parent–child relationships, and supporting healthy child development.

Techniques & ideas

The following is a summary of techniques and ideas for authoritative parenting (Morin, 2020):

  1. Listen to your child.
    Perhaps nothing is more important than spending time listening to our children. Each child’s fears, worries, dreams, hopes, likes, and dislikes offer deep insight into who they are and what they need.
  2. Provide emotional validation.
    An authoritative parent helps their child identify and understand their emotions without judging or minimizing their feelings.
  3. Consider their feelings.
    A child’s feelings are important. By considering them, parents can understand how their decisions and behavior affect their family.
  4. Set appropriate boundaries.
    Clear guidance about what is and is not acceptable (and why) helps children build better life skills.
  5. Give clear consequences.
    When children misbehave, they need to know there is a consequence. Try to set one that offers a clear life lesson.
  6. Offer incentives.
    Rather than bribe children to get things done the way you want, offer smaller incentives that teach them new skills.
  7. Provide autonomy.
    Allow children to make little choices, supporting bigger decision-making later in life.
  8. Build relationships.
    Each of the points above can be combined with setting aside quality time each day to help children feel loved and accepted.

Role-play

Fun and play can be an excellent tool for building emotional bonds and understanding between children and adults and offers an ideal opportunity to engage in authoritative parenting (Snowden & Rebar, 2018).

Games that involve pretending to be different people (real or imagined) are a powerful and fun approach to learning about responsibility, communication, and developing relationships (Snowden & Rebar, 2018; Peters, 2018).

Sometimes, it is helpful to swap parent and child roles. Perhaps the parent pretends to be a child making a mess in their bedroom while the child takes on the parenting role, asking them to be more careful and tidy up.

Other situations offer opportunities to practice behavior, such as being polite.

Create an imaginary scenario where the parent is a café owner, and the child is a customer. Ask them to run through the role-play situation twice, first being a rude and ungrateful customer, and then being kind and respectful. Then, ask them to explain how they think the owner may feel toward each customer.

5 Helpful Parenting Movies

We assessed several movie review sites, along with some of our personal favorites, to provide a brief list of movies we believe highlight the challenges, joys, and lessons to be taken from parenting.

1. The Kids Are Alright

The kids are all rightThings get complicated when the children of a lesbian couple wish to connect with their biological father.

This heartfelt drama explores the complexities and realities of nontraditional families and the relationships formed.

All of us can identify with the parental flaws each character has to confront.

Available on Amazon.


2. What to Expect When You’re Expecting

What to Expect When You’re ExpectingA star-studded cast offers an ensemble of pregnant mothers preparing for the forthcoming significant life change.

The story covers a broad perspective of all that an expectant parent may face, from miscarriage to breastfeeding, and many of their fears, joys, and upsets.

Available on Amazon.


3. Parenthood

Parenthood movieThis humorous yet honest film reflects the parenting journey from the perspective of both adults and children.

Despite being over 30 years old, Parenthood has strong characters that offer humorous and valuable insights into the highs and lows of parenting.

Available on Amazon.


4. Stepmom

Stepmom movieWhen a new partner arrives on the scene following a divorce, it shakes up the family dynamics between adults and children.

It’s another movie classic, this time exploring parenting from the eyes of both a biological parent and a stepparent. With many emotional scenes, it highlights the importance of love and its potential to support those facing loss.

Available on Amazon.


5. The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of HappynessIn this emotional roller coaster, a homeless father (played by Will Smith) attempts to create a better life for his family.

It is a powerful movie that highlights what parents will do for their children and how hope and perseverance have the potential to triumph even in the most dire situations.

Available on Amazon.


In What Is Movie and Cinema Therapy & How Does It Work? we explore how movies can have therapeutic value and an opportunity to reflect on people’s inner lives in diverse situations.

Resources From PositivePsychology.com

We have many resources available for therapists to support families wishing to address relationship issues or strengthen emotional bonds.

Why not download our free positive parenting pack and try out the powerful tools contained within?

Other free resources include:

  • Meeting Our Family Needs
    Family conflict can be reduced by ensuring each member’s needs are understood and accepted.
  • What Is Working Within the Family
    While it is essential to recognize what is causing conflict in a relationship, it is equally vital to identify what is working.

More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:

  • Respectful Parenting
    Respect is a vital element of the parent–child relationship. This exercise helps parents and caregivers recognize the importance and value of respectful parenting.

Try out the following four steps:

    • Step one – Create two lists. One is to capture your parenting activities and strategies that exemplify respectful parenting, and the other includes less respectful parenting.
    • Step two – Count them up and notice the balance between both lists.
    • Step three – Think of ways you can increase your respectful parenting approach. For example, spend more time talking to your child as you expect them to speak to you, listen to them more closely and with full attention, and respect your children’s likes and dislikes.
    • Step four – Commit to looking for more opportunities to engage in each aspect of positive parenting over the coming days.
  • A Family Tree
    Family strengths help maintain cohesion and harmony and build resilience in relationships. It is particularly helpful for parents to recognize the strengths of their children.

Use this tool to map strengths on a family tree:

    • Step one – Draw your family tree on a large piece of paper, capturing the relationships between people.
    • Step two – List each family member’s top three strengths.
    • Step three – Look for patterns of strengths common within the family. Discuss them with other family members. Are there any surprises? Is there an important strength missing from the family?
    • Step four – Reflect on how knowing these strengths could help you avoid conflict and strengthen relationships going forward.

If you want to shape the wellbeing and future of children’s lives, consider this collection of 17 validated positive parenting tools designed for parents, caretakers and guardians. Use them to lay the groundwork for children’s lifelong success and happiness.

A Take-Home Message

Parenting can seem like a daunting challenge. I should know; I’m a parent of two beautiful, strong-willed daughters.

Our challenge is to show our children warmth and kindness yet be firm and clear regarding what is acceptable — and what is not.

And I’m still working on that one.

Psychologists typically consider parenting as predominantly taking one of the following four styles: authoritarian (strict and less nurturing), permissive (minimal rules, possibly leading to unhealthy behavior), uninvolved (distant, resulting in poor coping techniques), and authoritative (responsive and nurturing, supporting healthy, confident child development).

Authoritative parenting involves setting clear guidance, being responsive, and engaging in our children’s emotional needs. Forming a deep understanding and emotionally solid bonds requires structure and ongoing communication.

An authoritative parent is engaged and nourishing, recognizing and accepting a child’s fears and concerns while working with them to make plans and set future goals.

And these are the skills where I’m focusing my attention.

After all, such techniques are valuable for supporting our children as they make their way through educational systems and life, along with underpinning essential work in family therapy.

Whether you are a parent or a counselor working with families, the principles and practices involved in authoritative parenting offer potent techniques to boost parent–child flourishing and healthy child development.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Parenting Exercises for free.

  • Chou, J. L., Cooper-Sadlo, S., & Jos, A. (2019). Authoritarian parenting. In J. L. Lebow, A. L. Chambers, & D. C. Breunlin (Eds.), Encyclopedia of couple and family therapy (pp. 192–195). Springer.
  • Hayek, J., Schneider, F., Lahoud, N., Tueni, M., & de Vries, H. (2022). Authoritative parenting stimulates academic achievement, also partly via self-efficacy and intention towards getting good grades. PLOS ONE, 17(3).
  • Mattanah, J. F. (2005). Authoritative parenting and the encouragement of children’s autonomy. In P. A. Cowan, C. P. Cowan, J. C. Ablow, V. K. Johnson, & J. R. Measelle (Eds.), The family context of parenting in children’s adaptation to elementary school (pp. 119–138). Routledge.
  • Morin, A. (2020, October 26). 12 Ways to become a more authoritative parent. Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/ways-to-become-a-more-authoritative-parent-4136329.
  • Peters, S. (2018). My hidden chimp: Helping children to understand and manage their emotions, thinking and behaviour with ten helpful habits. Studio Press.
  • Sanvictores, T., & Mendez, M. D. (2022). Types of parenting styles and effects on children. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK568743/.
  • Snowden, S., & Rebar, S. (2018). Anger management workbook for kids: 50 fun activities to help children stay calm and make better choices when they feel mad. Althea Press.
  • Zhou, Z., Qu, Y., & Li, X. (2022). Parental collectivism goals and Chinese adolescents’ prosocial behaviors: The mediating role of authoritative parenting. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 51(4), 766–779.

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