What’s the Difference Between Authoritarian and Authoritative Parenting?

By: Samantha Dewitt

Updated August 19, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Whether you’re about to become a parent or already are one, you'll likely want to know about different parenting styles. It may not seem like that big of a deal to know what kind of parent you are, however, understanding different parenting styles can give you a totally new perspective on raising children and how we, as parents, influence our children throughout their entire lives simply by what parenting style we use to raise them. This article explores what other parents are doing and discusses the positives and negatives of authoritative and authoritarian parenting so that you can be a better parent and choose approaches that work best for you and your family.

What You Need to Know

The main difference between the authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles is how the parents set rules and expectations. Authoritarian parenting is much stricter and these parents tend to set very strict rules and expectations, often with little reasoning, (or at least little explanation surrounding the reasoning). Authoritative parenting means that there are rules, but that there is also communication and maybe even some leeway between parent and child. There may be a similar amount of reasoning behind these rules, but in authoritative parenting the reasoning behind the rules is discussed with the child. This type of parenting allows for the child and parent to talk more openly before making decisions. In this parenting style, the children's opinions are valued and input from the children is taken into account before making a decision.

We'll talk more in-depth about each of these parenting styles in a moment, but for now you should know that authoritative parenting is actually considered the healthier option. It allows the child to have a little more freedom and autonomy while still getting the structure and guidance they need. The truth, however, is that a lot of parents have difficulty figuring out just what parenting style to use with their children. Along with figuring out what style to use, it can be hard to identify what style you are currently using and/or how to change your parenting to a different style. However, authoritative parenting has been proven to produce more successful, well-adjusted children overall. Let's get into more detail on both authoritarian and authoritative parenting.

What Is Authoritarian Parenting?

So, what exactly is authoritarian parenting? A parent who follows an authoritarian type of approach sets strict rules. They tend to set firm expectations for their child and they anticipate these expectations and rules to be followed, always. They tend to be less warm and nurturing than other parents and may not provide a lot of options or choices for their children. They offer a very strict, "my way or the highway" style of parenting that their children are always required to follow with punishments often being doled out without explanation.

Children raised in a household in an authoritarian style of household may have low self-esteem and seem shy or even fearful around other people. They have difficulty in social settings, difficulty making choices on their own, and tend to conform to those around them. Children of authoritarian parents often associate obedience, or even success, with love (due to the way their authoritarian parents show love) and may feel that they aren't loved if they aren't doing exactly what they are told or have made someone unhappy somehow. There sometimes is a correlation between children that have anxiety or depression and the authoritarian parenting style. These children may be aggressive outside of their own home, as well, because of thoughts or feelings that may not be able to be adequately expressed at home with their parents.

Parents that employ an authoritarian style of parenting will often feel as though they are keeping their child under their control and that they are doing what's best for their child. But in the long run, authoritarian parenting can cause the child to begin acting out, to become depressed, or to withdraw. Employing a strategy of too much power and control can lead to a whole lot more problems than it solves for these types of parents and the children who live in this type of household.

Authoritarian parent angry at teenage son

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What Is Authoritative Parenting?

Though it may sound very similar in name to authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting is a very different and far healthier approach. In this method of parenting, there is open communication and understanding between the parent and the child. The child will be listened to and their independence is encouraged. There are limits, consequences, and expectations but these are more lenient and allow for greater independence and freedom for the child. Discipline is also considered fair by authoritative parents and is consistently applied in the same manner and for the same infractions. Unlike authoritarian parenting, there is consistency in consequences for rule-breaking. There are expressions of warmth and love without the requirement for rule-following. This, however, doesn't mean there aren't rules; this just means that the love given by the parents is not used solely as motivation to and reinforcement for following rules.

Children who are raised with authoritative parents tend to be happier, healthier, and more emotionally developed and in-tune than their peers who were brought up with authoritarian parents. They will frequently have better self-regulation skills. They tend to have good social skills, individuality, and self-confidence when it comes to expressing themselves and trying new things. They may have an easier time adapting to change, due to the authoritative parenting they grew up under, and often feel more comfortable making new friends as well.

Parents who use an authoritative approach tend to let children reason things out on their own and encourage them to work independently. They expect that the child will do well and will follow the rules as well as meet expectations, but there is less rigidity in these expectations and rules. These parents explain punishments, and they provide adjustments or changes to those punishments based on an explanation of circumstances or opinions and thoughts from the child. Authoritative parents are also more likely to encourage free expression, which can help the child develop a more rounded approach to life as well as healthier conflict resolution skills than the kids with authoritarian parents.

What's The Better Approach?

So, which method of treatment and parenting is best for a child? Overwhelmingly, the evidence seems to suggest that authoritative parenting is the better and healthier way to raise a child. By encouraging them to meet expectations and follow the rules without basing love and affection on those expectations, an authoritative parent is helping their child to develop positively. Doling out punishments in a manner that allows for circumstances and allows the child to explain themselves while being consistent and fair helps the child feel closer to the parent even when they're being punished.

This style of parenting will also provide a little more wiggle room while at the same time encouraging individuality. A child raised in an authoritative household is more likely to grow up happier, healthier, and more productive as well as having an easier time adapting to things that happen around them. Children of authoritative parents are more likely to have a more constructive and successful relationship with their parents, peers, and other authority figures with a lower chance of developing mental illnesses throughout their lifetime than those raised in an authoritarian household.

If you’re using either of these parenting styles, take a look at the things that are working for you and the things that aren’t. You want to help your child, and by helping them with a balance of independence and rules, you will be sitting them up for success in their future. There are a lot of things that go into being a successful parent, and there’s no one way to raise a child, but wouldn’t you like to know that you’re doing everything you possibly can to improve their chances in life? It’s going to be a better way of life for you, your child and the entire family.

Helping Your Child

It's important to note that a child raised in any household, be it authoritative or authoritarian, may develop a mental illness or may have difficulty in different aspects of their life. There is no one way for a parent to completely protect their child from problems in their personal life or even problems that might happen in their school life, family life, relationship with their parents, or work life in the future. The best thing that you can do is to give your child positive tools and support that will help them understand how to work through problems when they do arise and how to seek help if they need it. Control what you can.

If you encounter problems in parenting or simply need a place to work through the common stresses of parenting, reaching out to a licensed therapist can be very helpful. A therapist can help you find ways to cope with daily stresses, develop strategies for common problems in parenting, and give you support while you make changes.

Outside Solutions

When it comes to parenting the best thing that you can do is your research. Start looking for different parenting journals and parenting blogs. You might be surprised what kind of information you can find when it comes to parenting advice. Now, you'll want to be careful about how much of it you take to heart and how much you actually follow by being mindful about what category of parenting the advice falls under, but research can give you a good idea of what's working and not working for others.

Authoritative parent tickling her daughter

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Parenting classes are another great way to get some help because these are typically run by professionals who have done the research themselves. These are individuals who can really help you to learn about dealing with different problems that will arise and who will help you prepare for any parenting challenges in your and your child's life.

Finally, make sure that you're talking with your child. No one knows how they are feeling better than they do. Of course, it's not only just about actually talking with them, but also about how you can understand them in other ways. Pay attention to how they react to different things that you do or say and use that to make informed decisions about what they really want or need. Talk to them about their interests, but don't talk down to them. You might even learn a thing or two about yourself by listening to them and observing their behaviors.

BetterHelp is one way that you can get help for yourself, without leaving home. Additionally, if you are looking for a similar source of help for your child, TeenCounseling offers the same online services as BetterHelp but for teenagers. Online therapy has been found to be just as effective in the short term as in-person therapy, with some studies finding greater effectiveness in the medium and long-term, even post-treatment. These focused primarily on internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy to treat things like anxiety, depression, and negative self-image – all things that can, and often do, impact parenting.

If you have or are about to become a parent, internet-based therapy has the added benefits of being incredibly accessible and convenient. Because BetterHelp therapists often operate from hundreds or thousands of miles away, you’re not so restricted by time – you’ll need to talk with your therapist about this first, but many are available outside of typical working hours, even during the night or early in the morning. BetterHelp also offers unlimited messaging with your therapist which can be particularly useful to parents, as the life of a parent is often busy and unpredictable! Furthermore, BetterHelp is typically cheaper than most in-person therapy options.

Talking to someone where you feel the most comfortable helps increase your comfort in reaching out. Even better, when you work with BetterHelp you don't have to worry about the quality of care because you'll be working with a professional who knows how to help you and how to work with your child as well. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people who have been helped with a range of challenges related to parenting.

Therapist Reviews

"I am THRILLED with Rachel and with BetterHelp! It is affordable, I am a single mom with 4 kids on a tight budget and a LOT of stress and this format makes it easy to get help. I LOVE that I can write my feelings to her whenever I am having them, not have to wait a week for the next session. She is very insightful and I am thankful!"

"Tammi has made such a difference in my life. Had I not had her help I'm pretty sure I would've lost all contact with my 19 year old daughter who chose to live with her father. She understands teenagers and moms of teenagers! So kind, wise, experienced, compassionate, and level headed, I can't say enough good about her!!"

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