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Authoritarian Parenting: Is It Your Way or the Highway?

Rebecca Desfosse
July 3, 2015

Here's how to spot this iron-fisted parenting style in yourself and others. Everything you need to know about how autoritarian parenting affects kids and how to make a change if necessary.

Do you rule with an iron fist and want your kids to follow your orders to a T? Do you frequently use timeouts or groundings as punishment? You might be an authoritarian parent. Don't worry -- every parent has been there. It's easy to lose your cool and snap at your little one in the midst of messy everyday life. But authoritarian parenting can cause problems if it's used on a daily basis. Here's what you need to know if you're looking to add more positivity to your parenting style.

Common Characteristics of Authoritarian Parenting
 

  • You Have Strict Rules And Expectations
    "The emphasis is not on teaching and internalizing skills including critical thinking when faced with complex decisions, but more on following rules set forth, upheld and maintained by adults," says Jennifer Miller, a parenting coach with a master's degree in education and founder of ConfidentParentsConfidentKids.org. Authoritarian parents set the rules and feel that kids should follow them -- no matter what
     
  • You Utilize Punishment With Little to no Explanation
    "Parents may yell or use timeouts or ground children in order to teach a lesson," says Miller. Without explanation, these punishments don't teach kids anything beyond the fact that they did something wrong.
     
  • You Rarely Offer Kids Choices or Options
    According to Dr. Colleen Georges, LPC, NCP, a certified positive discipline parent educator, "Authoritarian parents are more likely to tell their kids what to do, how to feel and how to behave, without asking for their children's thoughts, feelings or input." After all, you're the parent, right?
     
  • Demonstrate Limited Warmth or Nurturing
    Do you think that cuddling and kindness will spoil your child? "Parents using an authoritarian parenting style tend to use firmness with very limited kindness," says Georges.


Effects of Authoritarian Parenting
Your parenting style can actually affect your child for many years to come. The children of strict authoritarian parents:
 

  • Internalize Power Struggles With Love
    "Kids with authoritarian parents tend to associate love with obedience and achievement," says Dr. Georges. When their parents display limited kindness, kids don't know what it means to be in a loving and nurturing environment.
     
  • Frequently Express lower Self-Esteem
    Kids growing up with strict parents also tend to act more shy and withdrawn, especially in new situations where they don't know the "rules" yet.
     
  • Demonstrate Challenges in Social Situations
    According to Dr. Georges, "It has been found that children of authoritarian parents are less likely to feel socially accepted by their peers and more likely to experience bullying as a victim or perpetrator."


How to Change Your Parenting Style for the Better
Want to inject more positivity in your parenting style? Here are some tips to help you get out of the authoritarian groove:
 

  • Start Slow
    Change doesn't happen overnight, so take it one day at a time. "Small steps are critical with a good dose of patience, forgiveness and self-compassion," says Miller. If you find yourself slipping back to your old ways, just keep at it
     
  • Calm Down
    "A small first step might be when a parent is angry, take steps to calm down first -- breathe, sit in a quiet space alone for a few minutes," says Miller. This will not only help you come up with more constructive responses but also models behavior you want your child to learn.
     
  • Ask Questions and Listen
    Ask your child about school and their friends -- and really listen to their answers. "Asking questions like these helps your child to feel you are truly interested in their thoughts, feelings and experiences, and that you want to support them," says Georges. It also helps strengthen your bond.
     
  • Encourage Learning From Mistakes
    "Instead of jumping to reprimanding or punishment when children make mistakes, talk with them about it," says Georges. Ask your child what she thinks caused the situation to occur and how she feels about it. Let her know that while you are disappointed and there will be consequences, you are proud of how she is approaching the situation now.
     
  • Don't Take Any Parenting Style too Seriously
    Just because you don't want to rule with an iron fist doesn't mean that you have to jump into any other model of parenting. Do what feels right to you and do it from a place of love and understanding.


Want more parenting techniques? Read Parenting Styles Revealed.

Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics.

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