Raising Competent Kids: The Authoritative Parenting Style

By Ballantine, Jeanne | Childhood Education, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Raising Competent Kids: The Authoritative Parenting Style


Ballantine, Jeanne, Childhood Education


It's the nightly battle! Our 4-year-old does NOT want to take a bath. She is busy with her toys and knows the routine--bath and then bed. She is moving toward a tantrum.

How can parents resolve such problems without risking full-blown conflict? Family researchers have identified four styles that parents use to interact with their children: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful. Although some families fall between the styles, most families use one of the following approaches:

* Authoritative parents are demanding and responsive, controlling but not restrictive. This child-centered pattern includes high parental involvement, interest, and active participation in the child's life; open communication; trust and acceptance; encouragement of psychological autonomy; and awareness of where children are, with whom, and what they are doing.

* Authoritarian parents are demanding, but not responsive. They show little trust toward their children, and their way of engagement is strictly adult-centered. These parents often fear losing control, and they discourage open communication.

* Permissive parents are responsive, warm, accepting, and child-centered, but non-demanding. They lack parental control.

* Neglectful parents are neither responsive nor demanding. They do not support or encourage their child's self-regulation, and they often fail to monitor or supervise the child's behavior. They are uninvolved.

How might each style of parent handle the child who does not want to take a bath? The authoritative parent might discuss the problem and come up with a solution acceptable to both parent and child--an incentive such as a bubble bath, cookies and milk after the bath, or reading a story during the bath. The authoritarian parent might use control, power, and corporal punishment, forcing the child into the tub. The permissive parent might not force the issue, and suggest a compromise instead-"We'll just sponge off." The neglectful parent might let the issue go--and would probably have a pretty dirty 4-year-old!

Different parenting styles yield different outcomes for children. Social scientists find that parenting styles affect children's psychological well-being, their school achievement, and other aspects of their social and psychological adjustment, including adolescent problem behaviors such as aggression and drug and alcohol abuse.

The Authoritative Parenting Style

Authoritative parenting without physical punishment produces the most positive results and the fewest problems for children in today's world. Children who have been raised in authoritative homes score higher on a variety of measures of competence, social development, self-perceptions, and mental health than those raised in authoritarian, permissive, or neglectful homes. This is true not only in childhood, but also during adolescence, as evidenced by higher academic achievement and psychosocial development, and fewer behavioral problems.

How can parents reduce reliance on physical punishment and adopt a more authoritative style? The following scenarios highlight some age-appropriate authoritative responses:

* Demanding and responsive: Jenny must clean her room; it's a mess! She wants to play baseball with her friends at 10:00 in the morning. Her authoritative parents adhere to the demand, but are responsive to her needs. They determine that Jenny must clean the room sometime today or stay in tomorrow until it is done. This approach gives the child some decision-making and time-management experience. The goal is achieved without bitterness, repression, or punishment.

* Controlling, but not restrictive: Giving 3-year-olds a choice between two alternatives allows them some autonomy, while the parents control the situation. "Shall we go swimming or for a hike in the woods?" "Would you like peas or carrots for dinner tonight?" "Shall we take your bath before or after dinner? …

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