The hallmark phrase of an authoritarian parent is “Because I said so!”
Now, while I’m pretty sure that all of us have heard these four words escape our mouths in a moment of exasperation, it doesn’t mean we are all authoritarian parents. A true authoritarian parent demands immediate and complete obedience without any explanation, all the time.
In the 1960s, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind classified parenting styles into three basic categories that are still used today: authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting, and authoritative parenting. The three categories are based on how much a parent demands of their child and how responsive the parent is to the child.
Authoritarian parenting involves high parental demand and low parental responsiveness.
Permissive parenting is characterized by low demands being placed upon the child, while at the same time being very responsive to the child.
Authoritative parenting combines the high parental demand of authoritarian parenting with the high responsiveness of permissive parenting. Baumrind concluded that authoritative parenting was best for children.
I interviewed several therapists who specialize in working with children, as well as some experienced elementary school teachers, and all of them agreed with Baumrind: from a child development standpoint, authoritarian parenting is not the optimal way to parent. After my interviews, here are the top four reasons I’m not using authoritarian parenting.
1. I want my kids to be able to self-regulate.
I don’t want my kids to only do the right thing when someone is watching. I want them to learn to do the right thing because they have a deep understanding of why it’s the right thing to do. If they have learned to follow rules only to avoid a consequence, then they have missed a valuable learning opportunity.
I talked with Dr. Don Williams, a child psychologist whose practice has a focus in the area of self-regulation disorders. This is his explanation of why using authoritarian parenting can inhibit the development of self-regulation:
“Authoritarian parenting tends to use shame and fear, which stir up the stress centers in the lower and mid-brain. It can be very effective at achieving short-term results and does develop cause and effect, which is driven by the control center of the brain (this is why speeding tickets are effective).
But self-regulation involves activation of the frontal lobes in much broader ways, such as the need to repair when you’ve done damage to a relationship, nonjudgmental self-awareness, morality, and valuing self-control itself. These are capacities that need to…