One of the challenges every parent faces is determining the best way to raise their child. Parents want to provide structure for the child as well as encourage creativity, build social skills and prepare the child to become a well adjusted and responsible adult. There are many models for child rearing in use today, with authoritative parenting earning a lot of attention.
But what is authoritative parenting? How does it work? What sets this method apart from other methods? Is this parenting model the right one for our family? Here is what you need to know about authoritative parenting, including the potential benefits and drawbacks.
Definition of Authoritative Parenting
In a nutshell, authoritative parenting is a strategy that seeks to set reasonable rules and guidelines that are in the best interests of the child. The rules provide structure while still allowing room for the child to explore, test, and begin the process of learning what constitutes acceptable behaviour. Authoritative parenting is also a model that allows parents to express love and affection with no worries that loving expression will undermine their control of the home.
Instead of a rigid environment where there is no margin for deviation from the house rules, authoritative parenting makes it clear the parents are in charge of the household and will set limits. At the same time, this methodology also encourages a degree of flexibility in the child-rearing process. This flexibility makes it possible for parents to assess a given situation and take action that is appropriate rather than falling back on disciplinary measures that may or may not help the child to mature.
How Does Authoritative Parenting Work?
Unlike an authoritarian approach to child rearing, authoritative parenting seeks to create a home environment where there is enough structure for the children to feel secure, but not so much structure that they become afraid to try anything new or different. The house rules are designed to keep the child safe and also provide a basis for beginning to relate to the world in general. When these broad rules are breached (and every child will try to get around any and all of the rules at some point), the emphasis is on expressing displeasure with the action in a constructive manner.
Parents who are using an authoritative model will see correcting the child as an opportunity rather than a challenge or a duty. Instead of just administering punishment and assuming the child got the message, the parents will take steps to help the child grasp why the action was not acceptable and also assist the child in identifying alternative actions that would have been acceptable. Some punitive action may still be employed, but the child will, at least, understand the reason for the punishment.
Over time, authoritative parenting encourages creative thinking rather than following rules to avoid being punished. Children learn what type of behaviour is appropriate in a particular setting, and begin to use those skills as they develop friendships with other children, begin attending school, and take those first tentative steps toward adolescence and later adulthood.
When parents are effectively making use of the fundamental principles of this parenting style, they can look forward to the following results for the children:
- Loving respect for parents, siblings, and other people in their social circle
- The confidence to try new things, secure in the knowledge of what they already have mastered
- The desire to learn new things and find ways to implement this new knowledge into their lives
- Mental and emotional balance
- Freedom to express and develop character traits that are sometimes considered gender specific (i.e. girls interested in aggressive play and boys who are sensitive to the needs of others)
What sets this method apart from other methods?
The basic style of authoritative parenting is somewhat unique in comparison to other child-rearing techniques. In some cases, this method draws on the most attractive aspects of other approaches. At other times, authoritative parenting eliminates elements that are based on fear or some other negative factor.
Unlike an authoritarian approach, choosing to raise children using authoritative methods means realizing that not everything can be defined in terms of absolutes; there must be some degree of vision and flexibility in order to rear happy and productive children. This environment encourages children to develop skills that will help them evaluate situations and choose a responsible response later in life.
Unlike the permissive approach, authoritative parenting provides a foundation upon which the children can build. While the rules may be broad, they give home life a degree of definition and stability. The nice thing is that having this stability does not mean children don't have room to ask questions, wonder about things, or test their limits. All those tools will be needed once they are adults and should be honed while they are still under the care of their parents
At its best, authoritative parenting sets perimeters on acceptable actions and behaviour while still encouraging children to develop their talents and personalities.
What are the Pros and Cons of Authoritative Parenting?
As with any child-rearing approach, authoritative parenting does have negative as well as positive aspects.
Regarding negative aspects, this approach:
- Puts an additional responsibility on the parents. Since the house rules are somewhat broad and don't cover every conceivable situation, parents sometimes find themselves having to develop a completely new response to something the child says or does.
- Can be difficult to maintain when faced with a particularly willful child. A high degree of patience must be cultivated if the parents are to maintain an authoritative atmosphere in the home.
- Requires periodic review and refinement to continue benefiting the children as they grow and their needs change. House rules relevant at age six may be hindrances by age eight. Parents must be alert to the need to modify and amend the rules when necessary, rather than clinging to the same rules year after year.
Authoritative parenting also has many positive aspects:
- Children can know what is expected of them and also know why those expectations are in place.
- Children feel free to ask questions and voice opinions, even if they do not agree with the thoughts of the parents.
- Children incrementally take on responsibilities that are age appropriate and are within the scope of their abilities.
- Children choose to obey parents more out of respect and less out of fear of punishment.
Is this parenting model the right one for our family?
In the final analysis, only the parents can determine if authoritative parenting is the right approach for their home. It is important to keep in mind that this model will require dedication and in some cases an adjustment of attitudes and ideas on the part of the parents to work.
Authoritative parenting is the right approach if you have a strong desire to allow your children room to grow emotionally and mentally as well as physically. This model is an excellent choice if you want to encourage creativity and the development of effective social skills. Finally, this type of parenting will be the right choice if your ultimate goal is to raise children with all the skills they need to be successful in life.
For couples who are expecting or are new parents, taking the time to investigate authoritative parenting is an excellent idea. Many resources are available online, as well as several excellent books on this approach to child rearing. As you delve deeper into the applications of authoritative parenting within the family circle, you may discover that this approach is exactly what you've been looking for.