Unlike learning how to drive or bake a cake, there’s no clear-cut guide when it comes to raising a child. On a daily basis, parents wonder, “Am I doing this right?”
Parenting style differs greatly from one mom or dad to the next — from disciplining techniques to the number of the rules at home. But renowned clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind had it narrowed down to three: permissive, authoritarian and authoritative. While each one has it pros and cons, many experts consider authoritative parenting as the healthiest and most effective parenting style.
“Authoritative parents teach and guide their children. Their goal is to socialize their children, so they come to accept and value what the parents value,” said Nancy Darling, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Oberlin College, in an article for Psychology Today. “They tend to adjust their expectations to the needs of the child. They listen to children's arguments, although they may not change their minds. They persuade and explain, as well as punish.”
Here’s what it takes to practice authoritative parenting in your household:
1. Have clear and consistent rules. Expect your child to follow them. Children need rules and limits so they grow up to be prepared for the real world. Rules and limits shape behavior and provide a sense of order. They tell your child what’s okay and what’s not okay to do. According to pediatrician Dr. Marianne Neifert, in an article for Parenting, “[Children] intuitively know that they need an adult to be in charge, and they count on their parents to guide their behavior.”
Authoritative parents understand the importance of setting rules and limits. One crucial distinction? “They set fewer rules, but are better at enforcing them,” said Dr. Darling. They also make sure to explain the reason behind the rules and the consequences that follow when they’re broken.
For example, one rule that cannot be broken at home is that no homework should be left undone. There’s no strict study time, however. The child may choose to do their homework, say, right after coming home from school or after an afternoon snack. Have high expectations for your child’s behavior but be gentle, encouraging, and reasonable at the same time.
2. Give your child room to grow on their own. Authoritative parents are “shepherds,” according to Dr. Darling. They guide their child in the right direction but also allow them age-appropriate room to explore.
“They realize their children need meaningful experiences and freedom to be young to learn new skills,” said early childhood educator Tracy Trautner from the Michigan State University Extension. “[They also understand that] every stressful situation does not require parental intervention. Minor frustrations that confront a child can be an opportunity to develop coping skills.” For example, a left project at home can be a learning opportunity for your child to remember to make sure everything she needs is prepared before leaving for school.
This doesn’t just apply in school, on the playground and at home (where you let your child spread the jam on her bread), but also when it comes to letting their children be themselves.
“[Authoritative parents] listen to and talk with their children, giving them the opportunity to be independent in their thinking and actions, encouraging their opinions, and discussing options with them. They are flexible and reasonable, and their kids know this and can depend on it,” said writer Tracy Guth Spangler in an article for Real Simple.
3. Know your child and build a strong bond. Authoritative parenting becomes much easier when you know your child and share a strong bond with each other. This not only helps you figure out what limits and necessary and appropriate for your child to help him grow, but also helps you be a more patient and less irritable parent.
For example, because you know your child starts to become moody close to bedtime, you'll find ways to compromise but still make sure he sleeps early, like starting the bedtime routine earlier so you could read two books instead of one.
In addition, know yourself as a parent too. “I think the most important thing is to parent mindfully,” said Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Temple University specializing in child and adolescent psychological development. “Always be aware of why you are parenting the way you are — what your goals are and what you are trying to accomplish.”