Is Your Parenting Style Helping Your Child Succeed at School?

By Meghan Vivo

Parenting style has a profound impact on the way children develop into adults. Not only does parenting style affect a child’s weight, social competence and self-esteem, but it also plays a role in academic success.

The Four Parenting Styles

1. Authoritarian – These parents establish strict rules and inflict punishment when the rules are broken. Rather than explaining the rationale behind the rules, authoritarian parents say, “Because I said so.” Their demands are high and they are neither responsive nor nurturing toward their children. Instead, they express love and acceptance only when their child behaves in accordance with the parents’ wishes.

On a positive note, children of authoritarian parents tend to be obedient, learn limits and boundaries, and generally do well in school. But because they’re used to being told what to do, they may struggle to understand how to be independent, form their own opinions, take risks and find activities they truly enjoy.

2. Authoritative – Like authoritarian parents, authoritative parents set rules that their children are expected to follow, but they are also responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. Emphasizing positive reinforcement rather than punishment, these parents involve their children in the process of creating rules and consequences and explain the rationale behind the rules. Authoritative parents blend a nurturing, accepting and supportive approach with clear standards and expectations.

3. Permissive – Permissive parents are loving and responsive, but they don’t set rules or make many demands of their children. As a result of their leniency, their children tend to be undisciplined, immature and demanding. These parents tend to be seen more as a friend to their children than a parent.

4. Uninvolved – This parenting style is considered the most damaging to children. Uninvolved parents make few demands of their children, do not provide structure or rules, and are unresponsive, tending to be detached from their child’s life. Most commonly, uninvolved parents are preoccupied with work or are struggling financially to meet their children’s needs. As a result, children of uninvolved parents are at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems, academic difficulties, low self-esteem, and alcohol or substance abuse.

How Parenting Style Relates to Academic Achievement

Research from the University of South Florida suggests that authoritative parenting is the style most strongly correlated with academic success. The following are the characteristics of authoritative parents that breed academic success in kids:


Parents who are highly accepting of their child’s successes and failures and are affectionate, liberal with praise, responsive to their child’s emotional needs and involved in their child’s life are more likely to help their child succeed in school.

Psychological Autonomy

A high level of psychological autonomy – giving kids the freedom to think what they want – is an important characteristic of authoritative parents. These parents create a home environment where ideas can be expressed and genuinely considered, and children are loved and respected for having different ideas and opinions than their parents. For example, authoritative parents would ask their child how she learns best and give her a chance to prove herself rather than dictating how to study or set up a productive learning environment.

“Authoritative parents don’t keep their kids from making mistakes by controlling their actions,” says Carol Ranstad, Academic Director at New Leaf Academy of Oregon, a therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 10 to 14. “Instead, they encourage their child’s sense of individuality, giving her space to express herself and develop into an individual outside of mom and dad.”

Children of authoritative parents know how to stand up for their opinions when their parents aren’t around, which sets them up for success in dealing with peers.

Behavior Control

A moderate level of behavior control, which is defined as strict rules and supervision, is important for a child’s academic success. Authoritative parents set clear rules and expect their child to behave in a mature and responsible way.

“When kids know their parents are in charge, they feel safe. This grants children the freedom to be kids without feeling pressured to set their own boundaries and consequences,” notes Ranstad.

In the University of South Florida study, students who reported high acceptance from parents, high psychological autonomy and moderate behavior control from parents not only felt they performed better in school but did in fact have higher grade point averages. By contrast, the other parenting styles – authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved – produced children who not only felt they performed poorly in school but actually did earn poor grades.

Other factors that have been associated with academic achievement include higher parental education levels and per-capita income, and the child’s level of self-reliance, self-esteem and life goals.

The Process of Change

Parents want their children to succeed in school and often feel helpless to improve their child’s performance. By striving for a more authoritative parenting style, parents can position their child for the brightest possible future.

Of course, altering your parenting style isn’t always easy to do. Family therapy, parenting classes and educational seminars can help you make small changes that make a big impact.

The therapists and staff at New Leaf Academy of Oregon have been providing this kind of guidance and support to parents for years. At the same time parents are adjusting their parenting style, their daughters are getting familiar with their own learning style and special academic needs and making advances in social skills, communication and academic performance. Their combined efforts result in better relationships and a more positive school experience for the child.