Parenting styles are less about how you identify and more about how parents interact with and influence the development and outcomes of their kids. Although some parents associate themselves with media-propagated terms like free range and tiger parenting, in reality, there are only four parenting styles backed by psychology: Authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting, permissive parenting, and neglectful parenting. And of those four, only authoritative parenting appears to result in consistently good outcomes for kids.
What is authoritative parenting?
One of the parenting styles commonly used in psychology today, authoritative parenting is based on work from the 1960s by University of California at Berkley psychologist Diana Baumrind. Her model categorizes parenting into three different styles: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. In the early 1980’s, social psychologists Maccoby and Martin expanded on Baumrind’s model by viewing styles through the lenses of demandingness and responsiveness.
In this expanded model, a neglectful parent shows both low responsiveness to a child’s needs and demands very little — they may not enforce rules or give much consideration to a child’s needs. Permissive parents cater to the needs of their child (they’re highly responsive) but demand very little. Authoritarian parents demand a great deal from their kids, but don’t consider their child’s needs and often pair expectations with the threat of punishment. Authoritative parents, however, appear to hit a Goldilocks zone. They expect a lot of their kids, but also consider the specific needs of each of their children.
According to the American Psychological Association, authoritative parents are “nurturing, responsive, and supportive, yet set firm limits for their children.” Even if they don’t always accept their child’s viewpoint, they listen and focus on explaining rules, discussing, and reasoning to influence their kid’s behavior.
“Frequent, positive discussion, healthy boundaries, and consistent rules prevent confusion and discord,” explains Mindpath Health’s regional medical director, Leela R. Magavi, MD, a Johns Hopkins-trained child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. “Utilizing a more authoritative approach helps children feel appreciated, autonomous, and empowered longitudinally. They tend to become adults who are more grounded, independent, motivated, and compassionate.”
How to adopt an authoritative parenting style
The idea of raising independent and compassionate kids is appealing may be just appealing enough to interrogate their own parenting style. That kind of introspection may reveal swings too far toward the heavy-handedness of authoritarianism or, conversely, the free-for-all of permissive parenting — a third style cataloged by Baumrind defined by a laissez-faire parental attitude that has equally poor outcomes for kids.
Magavi encourages parents to self-evaluate but also set reasonable goals and expectations for themselves. “This may be challenging,” she explains, “but such introspection could be helpful in recognizing and reiterating the fact that perfection is not a necessity to raise well-rounded and compassionate children.”
At its core, communication is the foundation of your parenting style. So, you may find the help of a therapist beneficial as you move away from the do-as-I-say-or-else paradigm of authoritarianism or the “who cares?” vibe of permissive parenting. Magavi advises parents to begin releasing emotions in a private journal that they can then process with a therapist.
How to help kids transition to authoritative parenting
“Transitioning to another style of parenting may lead to transient clinginess, regression of behavior or emotional outbursts depending on the child’s temperament and the family dynamics,” says Magavi. “Parents who were formerly permissive may find that their children are not taking them seriously, and it may take time for their children to conceptualize and follow through on rules and routines.”
She advises parents to practice daily self-compassion and remind themselves that perfectionistic parenting could cause their children to perceive every shortcoming as a failure, which may lead to longstanding self-esteem concerns. After all, the goal isn’t to become a perfect parent but to improve as a parent. And maintaining a focus on what’s going on in your own journey and that of your family can provide the context needed to maintain that mindset.
Read the full Fatherly article with sources.