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Authoritative parenting style

Science says you can help kids roll with the punches

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Last summer, my teenage son suffered a concussion from a criminal assault in a park near our home. The fact that the trauma occurred in broad daylight in a safe, pleasant area was startling and deeply distressing. Yet, my husband and I watched our son bounce back from the victimization swiftly, adapting to the stress and injury quite well.

While this was a dramatic example of resilience, in today’s complicated world, our children face adversity daily. It is important that they develop this strength. In fact, author of “Mindsight,” Dr. Daniel Siegel, says resilience should be the fourth “R” of education, as important as reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic.

Highly resilient kids

Resilience involves rising above difficult circumstances “while moving forward with optimism and confidence even in the midst of adversity,” says expert Kenneth Ginsburg. Ginsburg says kids with high resilience possess:

• Competence: skills allowing them to test their judgments, make responsible choices, and face difficult situations.

• Confidence: gained by demonstrating their competence in real situations.

• Connection: with people who believe or love them unconditionally, producing strong values and feelings of safety.

• Character: a fundamental sense of right and wrong to ensure they are prepared to make wise choices, contribute to the world, and become stable adults.

• Contribution: personal contribution and a sense of purpose.

• Coping: effectively coping with stress prepares them to overcome life’s challenges.

• Control: a realization that they can control the outcomes of their decisions and actions.

Why parenting style matters

Across cultures, evidence-based research consistently shows authoritative parenting (not authoritarian, not permissive) to be an important protective factor for children and adolescents to develop resilience and thrive.

An innovative and successful program in Australia, Embrace the Future, promotes resiliency in part by educating parents and encouraging them to adopt an authoritative parenting style because:

• “Children are more receptive to parental influence with nurturance and parental involvement.”

• “Support and structure helps them develop self-regulatory skills, which enable children to function as responsible, competent individuals even when parents are not around.”

• “The verbal give-and-take characteristic of parent-child exchanges in authoritative families engages the child in a process that fosters cognitive and social competence, thereby enhancing the child’s functioning outside the family.”

Authoritative parenting characteristics

There is no agreed upon rulebook for authoritative parenting, but researchers, including Gwen Dewar, classify a parent as authoritative if she agrees with statements like these (Dewar, 2010):

• I take my child’s wishes and feelings into consideration before I ask him to do something

• I encourage my child to talk about his feelings.

• I try to help when my child is scared or upset.

• I provide my child with reasons for the expectations I have for him.

• I respect my child’s opinion and encourage him to express them, even if they are different from my own.

Parents are LESS likely to be judged authoritative if they agree with statements like:

• I let my child get away with leaving chores unfinished.

• I bribe my child to get him to comply with my wishes.

• I explode in anger toward my child.

• I punish my child by withdrawing affection.

Research findings on resilience

• Other adults can help. “The best documented asset of resilience is a strong bond to a competent, caring adult, which need not be a parent. For children who do not have such an adult in their lives, it is the first order of business,” write Ann Masten and Marie-Gabrielle Reed in their article, “Resilience in Development.”

• There are multiple pathways to resilience, according to Masten and J. Obradovic, in their 2006 publication, “Competence and Resilience in Development.”

• Resilience is not just internal. “It is easy to make the mistake of blaming the victim when resilience does not occur, if one assumes that resilience arises only from internal capacities,” write Masten and Obradovic.

• No child is invulnerable. According to Masten and Obradovic, “There are levels of risk and adversity so overwhelming that resilience does not occur and recovery is extraordinarily rare or impossible.”

A few more tips

Authoritative parenting has been shown to have the best outcomes for children, in line with resiliency research. According to Embrace the Future, forming the foundations for developing resiliency, includes:

• Caring relationships. “Warmth, responsiveness and emotional closeness provide children with the sense of security, trust, and self-esteem fundamental to resiliency.”

• High expectations. “Clear boundaries provide the structure, discipline, and sense of self-efficacy children need in order to master important academic and life skills.”

• Opportunities for involvement. In decision making at home and in the community where they can learn to give back, children need opportunities to participate.

Michele Ranard has a husband, two children, and a master’s degree in counseling.


Dewar, Gwen. “The authoritative parenting style: Warmth, rationality, and high standards. A guide for the science-minded parent.” 2010. Parentingscience.com.

Embrace the Future (www.embracethefuture.org.au/).

Ginsburg, Kenneth R. “A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens.” American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006.

Masten, A.S. and M-G.J. Reed. 2002. “Resilience in development.” In Handbook of Positive Psychology. C.R. Snyder & S.J. Lopez, Eds.: 74–88. Oxford University Press. London.

Masten, A.S. and J. Obradovic. 2006. “Competence and Resilience in Development.” Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1094: 13–27 (2006). C _ 2006 New York Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1196/annals.1376.003.

Siegel, Daniel. “Mindsight.” Bantam, 2010

Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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