Authoritarian and Authoritative Parenting Styles: Which Is Best?

mother and daughterPeople have their own unique style when it comes to parenting. It is not just about a set of rules; the style of parenting caregivers take on is a reflection of who they are, their culture, and their value systems.

It’s important that parents be able to adapt their parenting style to integrate the best practices of other styles. This article will focus on two styles in particular: authoritarian and authoritative.

Authoritarian Parenting Style

Using an authoritarian parenting style hinders children’s capacity to verbalize what they want and need within the family system and hinders communication between parents and children about the reason for certain rules and expectations. When parents implement an authoritarian parenting style, the family is operating under what I would call a “closed system,” meaning that there is no room for discussion, options, alternatives, or negotiation between parents and their children. Parents who use an authoritarian parenting style send the message that children must cooperate with their parents “because I said so” by implementing techniques such as shaming, withdrawal of love, or arbitrary punishments.

An authoritarian parenting style may get children to be compliant on a short-term basis. However, children will not feel that there is a “democracy” in the household. As a result, they may be compliant due to fear of being punished. In addition, children will perceive that their feelings don’t count, which encourages them to feel powerless.

An authoritarian parenting style creates an oppressive environment for children to live in (particularly for children who are adopted and/or in foster care). An oppressive environment prevents children from thriving. In order for children to thrive, parents need to create an environment that is based on warmth, which allows children to learn to self-regulate.

Children also need to learn self-discipline, and they learn this from internalizing limits from a loving perspective as opposed to having limitations placed on them without empathy.

An authoritarian parenting style can create insecure attachment patterns in children, which prevents the emotional bond necessary that creates trust between parents and children that their physical and emotional needs will be met. As a result, children are more vulnerable to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, which are among the most common mental health issues among adolescents.

Parents who choose an authoritarian parenting style most likely were not securely attached as children themselves, which increases the chances of passing on insecure attachment patterns to children.

Authoritative Parenting Style

Of the four primary and widely acknowledged parenting styles, research shows that an authoritative parenting style achieves the most positive results with children. (Permissive and uninvolved are the other two styles.)

An authoritative parenting style responds to the emotional needs of children while setting limits and boundaries. Research on parenting styles shows that when parents are authoritative and engaged, children thrive in their environment and develop secure attachments with parents, an emotional bond that allows children to trust that their physical and emotional needs will be met.

Children feel a sense of empowerment when there is balance between choice and responsibility. Authoritative parents expect their children to meet high standards while also being willing to reason and be flexible with children when they make mistakes. Authoritative parents allow children to have a voice in what happens in their lives, and children perceive that their parents are open and sensitive to their needs. As a result, children have the opportunity to learn how to negotiate, become self-reliant, achieve academic success, develop self-discipline, be socially accepted, and have increased self-esteem.

If children are not provided with these opportunities, they build resentment and act out their feelings, which may cause behavior problems and increases the odds of delinquency and drug use during adolescence.

To implement an authoritative parenting style, parents should:

  • Show their children that they care.
  • Praise positive behavior and accomplishments.
  • Set clear and fair expectations.
  • Listen to their children.
  • Be consistent.
  • Discipline using choices and consequences.
  • Take their children’s opinions into consideration.
  • Be demonstrative in showing affection and saying, “I love you.”
  • Provide opportunities for children to make choices.

For most adults, parenting is one of the most challenging tasks they will take on in life. It can also be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. All parents want their children to grow into happy and well-functioning adults. In order to achieve the best possible outcome, parents should integrate acceptance, firmness, and encouragement of autonomy into their parenting practices.

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  • 18 comments
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  • Melody R

    Melody R

    May 2nd, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    I like to think that I am more authoritative but I tend to think that my kids think dictator! I don’t mean to be and I always have their best interest in mind when I say and do things but I think that right now as teenagers they look at it from a totally different light. I guess that there is a very fine line between loving your kids and setting down the rules with them and overstepping that line and being a dictatorship. Sometimes I don’t know where the balance actually is and I am too afraid of the kids getting out of control to not exert a little extra pressure on them from time to time. I know I am not mom of the eysr but I least want to know that wehat I am doing at home will not have any long lasting negative effects on the kids. Discuss please.

  • Tarnisha

    Tarnisha

    May 2nd, 2014 at 6:06 PM

    Thank you SO much for posting your thoughts! I feel the exact same way about my parenting style. Glad to know I am not alone. :-)

  • marcy

    marcy

    May 2nd, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    pretty sure that I waffle back and forth between authoritative and permissive- my kids probably don’t know what to think about those mood swings!
    Hey, it’s all in an effort to keep ’em guessing! lol

  • Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    May 3rd, 2014 at 12:03 AM

    Hi Melody…a good resource for authoritative parenting is “Love and Logic” by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. The following link will take you to a website that has a wealth of resources for Love and Logic:

    loveandlogic.com/p-134-parenting-with-love-and-logic-book.aspx.

    It sounds like you work very hard at being a loving parent. And yes, it’s easy for the lines to get blurred. I believe all parents have those moments when extra pressure is put onto the children from time to time. Teenagers are challenging! Despite that they may see you as a ‘dictator’ from time to time (so very normal:>), they truly want a parent who will set clear boundaries and maintain them. They will feel more secure if they know what is expected of them. You could have that conversation with them……discuss and negotiate the expectations as well as the consequences. If your children believe they have a voice in the process, they will tend to ‘buy in’. It sounds like you are doing a great job; ALL parents make mistakes. This is all so much easier said than done! I hope that helps.

    Best,

    Kathy

  • beatrice

    beatrice

    May 3rd, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    I grew up in a home that was definitely authoritarian and as much as I hated it then they sure gave me the clear cut lessons I needed to succeed and do well in life. Maybe I would have done alright without that, who knows now, but the fact is that my parents were hard on me, they didn’t feel bad about it, and I hated it them but they gave me discipline and for that I could never repay them. They taught me what real life would be like even when you got out from the cocoon of your home, and that was scary but very eye opening at the same time. I was prepared for life in a way that many of my friends were not and I don’t think that I had a difficult transition to adulthood because of that.

  • Bex

    Bex

    January 27th, 2018 at 6:47 AM

    I was raise by an Authoritarian parents .. i got a problem with the negative effects on me, i really find it hard . it really feel me sad, what should i do to change the negative effects i develop? i don’t not wish to be like this. i would prefer the positive effects on authoritative parents. sana i was brought up with authoritative parents

  • Reese

    Reese

    May 5th, 2014 at 3:36 AM

    I grew up in a home that was pretty permissive, almost to the point at time of being neglectful.
    I had two addicts as parents (yay me) and so if they were high then they really could not have cared less about what I did.
    At the time it was like woohoo, freedom, but now that I am older and thankfully not an addict myself I see the things that I missed out on and really when I was acting out when I was younger it was all just a cry to have them pay some attention, any attention to me.

  • Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    May 5th, 2014 at 2:55 PM

    I think it comes back to balance. Authoritarian parenting has some positive aspects in that if done well, can create clarity around boundaries and expectations. As Beatrice mentions, it was a beneficial experience for her. On the other hand, too much permissiveness, as Reese mentions, is not ideal either. Ideally, we want to find that ‘balance’ as parents and it’s a sophisticated balance to find. From my perspective, it’s a continual process that parents keep working toward. There will always be parts of our parenting or childhood experience that we can look back on and recognize where more balance would have been beneficial. It has been reassuring for me as a parent to know that no one is perfect at the parenting process; I believe that generally, parents do the best they can.

    Best,

    Kathy

  • Mike

    Mike

    May 6th, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    There have been times when I have seen that I can be all four, perhaps not at one time but a little bit of this and a little bit of that. For me that is what good parenting is all about, knowing when to be firm and when you can be a little more loose. I think that your kids will come to appreciate that it does not always have to be your way or the highway and that you are willing to be fluid and flexible at times too.

  • deaner

    deaner

    May 8th, 2014 at 8:58 PM

    Great article. There are lots of assessment tools online for determining parenting styles. For example, there’s one on mindchores.com.

  • Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

    May 12th, 2014 at 2:16 AM

    Thank you for all the great comments and great resources! Feel free to keep the comments coming; I welcome the feedback.

    Best,

    Kathy Hardie-Williams, M.Ed, MS, NCC, MFT, LPC

  • Rookie Parenting Tips

    Rookie Parenting Tips

    October 8th, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    Thank you so much for this great article. Authoritative parenting hands-down is the best. Here are more comparisons between authoritative and authoritarian parenting for those interested: rookieparenting.com/authoritative-parenting-vs-authoritarian-tiger-mom/

  • M. L.

    M. L.

    October 30th, 2014 at 4:49 AM

    Author should probably look into the work of Brody & Murray. Studies indicate that authoritative parenting can be more beneficial to some families, particularly racial/ethnic minority and low income families.

  • Shaina Braun

    Shaina Braun

    April 26th, 2015 at 10:27 PM

    This is great! I work with children in the home setting and am seeing more and more parents fear their child’s responses and therefore back off completely. It is heart breaking to see a 4-year-old running their parents’ lives for them.

  • John

    John

    August 5th, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    Children get a lot of comfort and guidance from clearly set boundaries. These boundaries are a moral compass. In general children also do respect what their parents say. They do want their parents to think well off them. The boundaries need backing up with two things. Listening then Guidance and importantly leading by example. Parents are not the child’s ‘friend’ (permissive) they are the guiding influence and not controlling (authoritarian). Children will rebel any rules as they get older and sometimes all you can do it tell them and give them the advice. If your child gets it wrong sometimes that is life and hopefully a lesson learned. However if you don’t tell you are negligent.

  • smarty

    smarty

    July 24th, 2017 at 5:51 AM

    Thank you so much for this information. Most of the parent don’t know the difference between Authoritarian and Authoritative Parenting Styles and which is helpful for them. But in this article you can discuss all the point very well.

  • Bex

    Bex

    January 27th, 2018 at 6:50 AM

    help me to get through with this , Kathy Hardie-Williams

  • Tinder O

    Tinder O

    March 5th, 2018 at 11:10 AM

    I think authoritative is more important or best thing for the children when I read your article then I know these things so thanks for giving me the valuable knowledge I really appreciate your voice that you are discussed in your article

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