Parents are the biggest influence in a child’s life. How you relate to your child, the things you do together, the examples you set and the values you pass on – in other words, your parenting style – will help shape the adult your child will become.

Parenting styles

While many factors determine how we parent, psychologists agree that there are four broad styles of parenting:

  • unengaged (or uninvolved)
  • permissive
  • authoritarian
  • authoritative.

While everyone will exhibit traits of all four at one point or another, one style generally tends to dominate the others. However, there is an increasing consensus among psychologists that an authoritative parenting style may provide an optimal balance for children.

Characteristics of authoritative parenting

Authoritative parenting maintains a healthy balance between expressing love and warmth towards children and using a moderate level of discipline or control. This includes setting boundaries and making rules; making sure children understand what the rules are and why they’re important; and encouraging children to make good decisions on their own and to develop self-control.

Authoritative parents listen to their children and take the time to understand their child’s perspective. They support and guide behaviour and apply logical consequences to misbehaviour rather than punishing their children.

Instead of over-protecting their children or doing everything for them, authoritative parents encourage independence and self-learning by empowering their children with appropriate responsibilities.

Benefits of authoritative parenting

While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to parenting, the benefits of authoritative parenting are backed by a wide body of research. Many studies have shown that children who receive caring and responsive parenting with moderate levels of discipline are more likely to be confident, sociable, independent and academically capable, and less likely to exhibit problem behaviours.

Another benefit of authoritative parenting is that it helps children form secure relationships with other important people in their lives, which will have a lifelong impact on their emotional health and social wellbeing.

How you can develop an authoritative style

It’s often said that parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever have, and, like any demanding job, it needs an investment of time.

  • Prioritise spending one-on-one time with your child to build your relationship with them.
  • Show that you enjoy this time, and make sure you talk, play and have fun together.
  • Try to see things from your child’s perspective, rather than imposing your adult view on them.
  • Help your child learn how to achieve goals – even modest ones are important – and to imagine a positive future.
  • Encourage your child to do their best at school and in other activities, but make fun and participation important too.
  • Take notice when your child tries hard or does well and praise them for both.
  • Children need boundaries and they need guidance in knowing what’s okay and what’s not okay – it’s ok to be firm, but also explain why.
  • Like adults, children have strong emotions, but they don’t always know how to handle them. Help your child find a safe and constructive outlet for their emotions, such as through art, drama, music, writing, outdoor play or sport.