Parenting Styles – Why Authoritative Is The Best

Oct 20, 2021

Do you wonder if your parenting style is helpful or harmful to your children’s long-term well being? In this episode, we look at the characteristics of the Authoritative Parenting Style, which is categorized by high levels of both demandingness and responsiveness. We discuss the characteristics of authoritative parenting, the outcomes it produces in children, and a contrast with the other parenting styles.
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Podcast Transcript

Hi, I’m Dr. Brenna Hicks The Kid Counselor. This is the play therapy parenting podcast where I give you insight, awareness, and enlightenment about your parenting and your relationship with your kids.

In this episode, we are talking about authoritative parents and how authoritative parents understand the best approach to raising kids. A while back, I recorded a video about The Universal Parenting Styles, and that was a widely popular video, tons of people were interested in Baumrind’s research.

Universal Parenting Styles

It was Baumrind who created the Universal Parenting Styles research. Looking at her styles, there were three that I covered in that video, and that was an interesting video to do because so many parents were really surprised to find out about the different traits that the different parenting styles used in their parenting approach. It’s kind of an interesting concept to think about what they are using in the way of daily interactions with their kids, and how that influences how your children turn out.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch that video, it’s in the show notes. So you will find a link to that video in the show notes.

One of the common questions that I got as a response to that video was, What about the 4th parenting style? And I covered the three and I’ll talk through those in just a moment. But there was an obvious gap in the quadrants because if you think of everything in a group of four, I only dealt with three.

A lot of the questions I got were, well, what if you are both not demanding and not responsive, what does that create? I read an article this week that talked about all four parenting styles and thought it was worth revisiting.

So in this episode, I’m going to talk through how the authoritative parenting style allows kids to thrive. It produces positive outcomes, positive long-term goals that we set as parents. You know, we want our Children to be [fill in the blank]. The authoritative parenting style creates those types of positive outcomes and the things that we would hope for our kids. So we’ll talk through those.

The second thing we’ll talk through together is the characteristics of authoritative parenting because obviously, it’s helpful to know that there are four types and we want to be the authoritative type. But, what does that look like? Practically speaking in the way of characteristics.

We will also contrast the authoritative approach with other styles. And so that’s when we’ll get into all for a little bit.

The path to calm, confident and in control, parenting starts now.

Okay, so as I mentioned, I came across this article this week and it was by a psychologist and a mom, she was talking about how, when she works with families, she encourages parents to use the authoritative parenting style. That caught my attention because like I said, I recorded a video on that a while back and there are three universal parenting styles that are commonly found.

The fourth is the worst in truth. So, I think that we don’t usually talk about the four, but I will give those to you just so you have an awareness and the video explains this in much greater detail.

You have a permissive style, you have authoritative, which is the one that produces the most successful and positive outcomes. You have an authoritarian style, and you have a neglectful style. To visualize this, the video has some visual cues and some examples. So in the podcast version, you’re going to have to try to visualize this if you think about a quadrant and there are four equal size boxes that make up a larger square.

So maybe xy graph might be helpful. So on the left side, you have responsiveness. On the bottom you have demanding this, think about this in terms of a spectrum. So you can be not responsive at all, somewhat responsive, and highly responsive. And then you can be not demanding at all, somewhat demanding, highly demanding. So these are kind of the X and Y-axis.

If you think through if you are extremely responsive but not demanding, that would be permissive, which would be top left if you are extremely responsive and extremely demanding you’re authoritative, which is the style that produces the most successful children, which is what we’re talking about today.

If you are not responsive and not demanding, you are neglectful. And if you are not responsive but highly demanding, you are authoritarian. I know authoritative and authoritarian sound very similar and they’re a little confusing, but authoritative is the one that we want to strive to be. Authoritarian is kind of the dictatorial type of parenting style. That’s really demanding but not responsive.

So that’s just a broad concept for a visual frame of mind as we’re talking through this, those four parenting styles, and where they fall.

You can see even in just the explanation of this grid if you are highly responsive and you are highly demanding, the authoritative parenting style makes sense. Why? It produces healthy happy kids.

Authoritative parenting style outcomes

Let’s talk about what the outcomes are when children are raised with authoritative parents.

So what the article finds is that traits of authoritative parents are that they are responsive to their child’s emotional needs, but they still have high standards. You can see how that correlates to responsive and demanding. Because I have high standards and there’s the demand, but I’m extremely responsive to my child’s emotional needs, there’s the responsiveness.

The second trait of authoritative parents is that they communicate frequently with their children, and take into consideration what their child’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions are. So it’s not just that we talk a lot (because authoritarian parents talk a lot, that’s the high demanding) but we talk a lot while taking into consideration their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

We talk about that all the time together, in the play therapy perspective, all feelings are always valid, their needs, their wishes, their desires, they always matter. So that very clearly aligns with what we already have talked about many times.

Another trait of authoritative parents… authoritative parents have natural consequences, and they allow them to occur. However, they use opportunities that allow their child to reflect and learn.

So what that means is, you know, my husband and I use this phrase all the time, something our son does, and it results in a consequence that he doesn’t like, and we look at each other and we smile and we say “the natural consequence of behavior”.

You know, sometimes it’s important for a child to just learn through doing something that I didn’t like how that turned out. So authoritative parents allow natural consequences to occur, but they don’t stop there. They use those opportunities to help their child reflect and learn from that experience.

So that’s the difference because you have to keep in mind, passive parents allow natural consequences to occur. But then, there’s no follow-up to allow that to be an opportunity for learning and growth and for a lesson to be taught.

4th trait of authoritative parents, they foster independence and reasoning. Of course, we want our children to have independence. Of course, we want them to be able to reason. And I know as a caveat, I talk all the time that children are not able to reason. They don’t have abstract reasoning, they don’t rationalize. They’ll do all of these cognitive things that we do, but you are developing those traits. It is part of a lifelong parenting approach, not an immediate fix parenting approach.

So authoritative parents, foster independence and reasoning, and finally they’re highly involved in their child’s progress and growth. So very hands-on approach. I talk all the time about being present, being intentional, being purposeful in the way that we parent, that’s how we’re highly involved in their growth and their progress.

So those are the characteristics of authoritative parenting. Now, what are the outcomes that we typically see in children who are raised by authoritative parents?

Across the board, they have greater academic success. So Children raised in authoritative parenting style homes just traditionally across the board do better in school, they have greater achievement academically, they develop better social skills, they know how to interact better with their peers, they know how to thrive in social situations, they are better at problem-solving.

So they are able to look at a scenario and determine the best way to handle it, and that goes back to the choice-giving principle that we talked about all the time when we talk about our “Four Pillars of Play Therapy“, choice giving is what allows a child to learn to problem-solve.

So you definitely have the problem-solving component that mirrors what we already have talked about together. And so really the three broad categories of the expectations you can have if you parent with an authoritative style is you will have academic success, social success, and behavioral success in your children because it creates the type of environment that allows those characteristics and capacities to develop.

So when we’re thinking through the authoritative style we have to keep in mind that the outcomes are the best. There’s no guarantee, right? I mean, anything we ever do as parents, we can’t guarantee success. We can’t guarantee a positive outcome. But what we can do is look at science and look at research and say historically across the board, when we’ve looked at the universal parenting styles, the authoritative style produces the most well-rounded, well-adjusted, successful, happy kids.

I would hope that that’s what we want to do. We want to be the parent and have the parenting style that creates that outcome for our kids.

Authoritative parenting style vs. the other three

So third point, I wanted to contrast the authoritative style with the other three styles so that you can kind of see in a practical, real world, experience what that might look like.

It may help you kind of assess where you would naturally fall, and here’s my disclaimer before I do this… If you listen to these four options, these four possible responses and say, “oh my gosh, I am clearly not the authoritative parent? That is clearly not my natural style”. Don’t let that be a time or place for you to blame yourself, feel guilty, feel ashamed, get frustrated with yourself.

We don’t know what we don’t know. I say that phrase a lot, and we can always change our approach. We learn we grow, we adapt and we make changes so that we can become the parent that we want to be.

So if you say “gosh, I really want to be the authoritative parenting style but I’m just not right now”, this is the first step. If you recognize that your response would be one of the other styles, you now can start working toward being more responsive and more demanding as opposed to what you might have naturally been before.

So the scenario might be that a child, so it’s a conflict scenario, right, 10 year old is saying “no I do not want to go to soccer practice, No, please don’t make me go. I hate going to soccer, I just don’t want to have to go!”

Remember… I talk about this a lot at my practice with consultations, even in the podcast. The ‘why’ is more important than the ‘what is said’. So if a child is saying “no, I hate soccer, I don’t want to go”. We might just kind of naturally say “that is not true, you love soccer”. Which is ‘I don’t meet you where you are and I don’t understand what you’re actually saying’.

So if we take the time to drill down to why is the child refusing to go to soccer, which takes some ‘I wonder’ statements, it takes some feeling reflections, it takes some of the skills that we’ve covered before we eventually get to child says “I don’t want to go because I don’t think I’m good at it”. Aha! Okay… totally different conversation than “I don’t want to go, I hate soccer.” And if we focus on those words it leads us in a very different direction.

So then we realize it’s because there’s feeling and emotion there as there always is with kids. So you know the ‘feeling reflecting’, play therapist in me says ‘okay, so he’s embarrassed, he feels inadequate, he feels incompetent, he feels, you know, disappointed that his skills aren’t better’.

So there are all kinds of feelings we can reflect. Check that out another podcast. But let’s get back to the parenting styles. So a permissive parent in response to “I don’t want to go to soccer practice because I don’t think I’m good”, the permissive parent would say “it’s up to you”. Now keep in mind, remember the quadrant, the grid… permissive is highly responsive, has no demandingness, no really high responsiveness, very little demandingness. So that means you kind of do whatever you want. So permissive parent says “it’s up to you”.

Okay, neglectful parent. Low demandingness, low responsiveness says, “whatever you want to do it’s your life”.

So you can see I have no demandingness but I have no responsiveness either. I don’t understand where you are, I’m not trying to meet you emotionally, I’m writing this off, I just don’t care. So that would be what a neglectful parenting style parent might say.

I should probably say an authoritarian parent, which just for your visual cue, your authoritarian parent is high demandingness, low responsiveness. So I have really high expectations, but I don’t necessarily meet you and your feelings. The authoritarian parent would say “you have to and I don’t want to hear another word about it”. So basically what you feel doesn’t matter. “You’re going anyway”.

The final one that we are hoping to get to, if we’re not already there, the authoritative parent would say “you don’t want to go.”

So what are we doing right there? I’m sure all of you yelled it, we’re reflecting the child’s feeling. “You don’t want to go. But sometimes fighting the urge to avoid doing something hard is how we get better”.

So notice that ‘I get it, I’m here, I hear you, I understand and I care’. The “be with attitudes”, right?

So ‘I get it, I’m meeting you where you are, you don’t want to go’. You could also say “you feel like you’re not good enough and that makes you sad”, “you’re disappointed, you wish you were better”. “You feel embarrassed when other kids can do more things than you can do”… whatever you think the child is feeling in that moment, you say it, reflect it, meet them and then say, “but sometimes fighting the urge to avoid doing something hard is how you get better”. Or I might say, if I wanted to shorten that, especially for younger kids, I would say, “but you can do hard things, even though this feels like a hard thing”.

So notice authoritative parents, high demanding… “you’re going”. if you’re going to boil it down to a two-sentence summary, “you’re going, but I get it, I understand and I’m going to help you understand the value of why you’re going”, because it’s high demanding, but it’s high response, so I totally understand. But I also, I’m going to have boundaries so that you learn a lesson and you can come out of this better because here’s kind of the overarching summary of this.

Authoritative parents set limits, they have boundaries, they expect their children to behave in an appropriate way, but they’re not demanding blind compliance, they’re not just saying “do it because I said so”, or “I’m not talking to you about this” or “too bad, suck it up”, you know, whatever those phrases that especially my generation, that was a standard refrain and parenting, “because I said so”, “be seen not heard”, “this is the way it is”.

There’s no expectation of kids are just going to comply because their kids.
So authoritative parents are able to communicate and reason with their kids, which of course helps inspire cooperation. Beyond anything else, it teaches kids the reason behind the expectations.

People are willing to do a lot of things if there’s a ‘why?’ Even requests that make little to no sense or people don’t agree with, if they’re given a ‘why?’ they’re much more likely to be okay with that expectation. There are studies that have proven that, and maybe I’ll save that for another episode.

But it’s fascinating to think about the ways that we might naturally default, because if we’re not even aware that there are four parenting styles for example, and we just say, “well I don’t want to force my kid to do something they don’t want to do”, so we might just say, “it’s up to you”.

We might think that that’s being kind. We might think that’s being loving. We might think that’s being understanding of our kids, but it’s permissive. And if you think about the universal parenting styles and what that looks like, practically speaking, it’s ‘I’m extremely responsive, but I have no demandingness’, and what that ends up resulting in is a child that walks all over you, because there’s never rules, there’s never boundaries, there’s never expectations.

So even in an attempt to be kind, “well, it’s up to you”, we don’t realize the outcome long-term of that. And obviously, I mean I would hope that none of us fall into the neglectful parenting category. So it’s ‘you know, we have no demandingness’, but ‘we also have no responsiveness’. That’s basically parental apathy. And I think the fact that you’re listening to the Play Therapy Parenting podcast indicates that you are not an apathetic parent. So I don’t know that there’s a lot of us that are in that neglectful parenting style.

However, there are times, I think when we’re just so frustrated with something we might say, “Whatever you want, it’s your life”, and that does not get us to the outcome that we want.

And likewise, the authoritarian parenting style is you have to “suck it up buttercup, I don’t want to hear another word about it. That’s just what’s happening”. And that’s that. Blind expectation of obedience and compliance.

What that ends up teaching a child, even though we don’t mean to, even though in that scenario, I think the parent’s justification is you are going, you signed up, you don’t have an out, we’re going no matter what. There’s reasoning and rationale behind that kind of statement, however, punishment doesn’t teach your child anything and demanding things without discussion. Basically, this just teaches them that mom or dad or parental figure in my life that’s in charge has the most power. So they always win. Whether it’s fair or not. And I don’t think that that is what our intention is, but that’s the outcome.

Summary of authoritative parenting style

So as you can see, authoritative parents, meeting the child where they are high demandingness high responsiveness. You don’t want to go, you’re embarrassed you’re ashamed, you’re disappointed, you feel inadequate, you feel uncomfortable, but sometimes we do hard things and that makes us better, you can do hard things.

So as you can see, this is a very, very different approach. It’s so fascinating and if you say you know what, I understand this concept, I like this concept, I want to work on being an authoritative parent. Because not only does research show that my kids will be happier for it, this is the kind of approach that I want to have with my kid, and it aligns with everything that we talked through, related to play therapy.

All of these principles that we’ve talked through in all of these podcast episodes and the videos and the articles and everything else. It all aligns with this authoritative approach. I hope that encourages you this week.

I hope that you are able to see, first of all, kids thrive with this style. We obviously want that for our kids. This gives us that outcome.

Secondly, the characteristics of authoritative parenting, we are guiding our kids, we have open honest discussions with them or in tune with their needs, we teach them values, we teach them how to reason, we do set limits and enforce standards, but it’s in a nurturing way. I would hope that those are our goals, regardless of what style of parenting we use.

Finally, you know, it really does help with conflict because children learn how to resolve conflict, we learn how to model resolution of conflict and when we have moments of conflict with our kids, we get positive outcomes with this style.

Play Therapy Parenting podcast

If you haven’t already, go to That is the new home of all of my podcasts. You will find recent episodes as well as the archives of all of the episodes. You can also go to that to sign up for that if you haven’t already.

Shoot me an email this week [email protected]. Let me know your thoughts. Let me know if this convicted you, if this supported what you already did, if you say, “gosh, I’m really going to change my reactions because I really am working toward this authoritative parenting style”. I had no idea about this, I already watched your video and this just further solidifies what I already knew. I would just love to hear from you, so please shoot me an email, we can chat through that.

Keep in mind just kind of as a summary… Parenting style is not the same thing as parenting practice. So when we’re talking about these four universal parenting styles, it’s easy to think about, well, my style is I reflect feelings and I give choices and I set limits and I try to employ the ‘be with’ attitudes and okay, those are parenting practices.

Parenting practices are specific actions that we use in any given parenting scenario, but a parenting style is the emotional climate in which we raise our kids. So what kind of emotional climate do we want to create for our kids? I certainly want, and I think you do too, to create an emotional climate where our kids know my parents have high expectations. It’s a high demandingness kind of climate. But man, they nurture and they are responsive to my needs. They always get me, they always understand me, they’re always right there guiding, directing, helping. But there are rules and there are expectations and that is balanced. That’s the emotional climate that I know I want. That’s the emotional climate that I think you do too. And the way to get there is authoritative parenting.

I hope that encourages you this week. Again, shoot me an email, I’d love to hear from you and in a future episode we’re going to look at Birth Order in a little more detail. It’s one of my favorite topics, but specifically, I read an article about only children this week. So I don’t know how many of you all are only children parents out there… I am one, I’m raising my hand. We know several families that have only kids, so we want to talk about Birth Order in general because many of you have more than one child, but also to kind of highlight only children and what is created with the only child family structure. Look forward to that in a future episode.

As always, thank you for being a part of the play therapy parenting podcast family. We’ll talk again soon. Bye.

Cochran, N., Nordling, W., & Cochran, J. (2010). Child-Centered Play Therapy (1st ed.). Wiley.
VanFleet, R., Sywulak, A. E., & Sniscak, C. C. (2010). Child-centered play therapy. Guilford Press.
Landreth, G. L. (2002). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (2nd ed.). Brunner-Routledge.
Bratton, S. C., Landreth, G. L., Kellam, T., & Blackard, S. R. (2006). Child parent relationship therapy (CPRT) treatment manual: A 10-session filial therapy model for training parents. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Benedict, Helen. Themes in Play Therapy. Used with permission to Heartland Play Therapy Institute.

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