Authoritarian parenting style is, with authoritative, permissive, and neglectful, one of the four traditional parenting styles. These four parenting styles were first quoted by psychologists Baumrid, Maccoby, and Martin, after observing thousands of parents and children.  

Authoritative parenting is the gold standard of parenting. In contrast, authoritarian, permissive and neglectful parenting are not that good for children.  

Let’s have a look at authoritarian parenting and how it relates to children’s development.  

Authoritarian parenting  

Authoritarian (1) parents are cold and demanding. Parents expect their children to do as they are told. Good behavior is always expected. Rules are strict, non-negotiable, and not clearly explained. They do not encourage intimacy nor trust. Children’s opinions and desires are not considered.  

When authoritarian parents discipline (2) their children, they don’t explain to their child why their behaviour was wrong. They use punishments and may get physical. They tend to be harsh and coercive. Parents may tell their children that they won’t love then anymore if they misbehave.  

Children raised by authoritarian parents are more likely to: 

  • Have mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. 

  • Have low self-esteem. 

  • Have poor social skills. 

  • Show behavioral problems. 

  • Do poorly at school. 

  • Be hostile and rebellious towards their parents. (3) 

How to know if you are an authoritarian parent? 

You are authoritarian if you tend to: 

  • Yell at your child when they misbehave.  

  • Grab your child when they are being disobedient. 

  • Scold and critize your child when their behavior doesn’t meet your expectations. 

  • Say something like “because I say so” or “I am your parent and I want you to”, when your child challenges a rule. 

  • Punish your child by taking privileges away (e.g., “You can’t have your phone for a week!”) with little or no explanation. 

  • Not allow your child to have a say about family rules. 

I recognize myself in many of the things you have just mentioned. What’s the problem? 

If you are cold towards your child, they won’t feel loved. They may even feel rejected. It is important that children feel loved by their parents. This helps them develop a sense of self-worth, belonging, and safety. (4) 

Many parents say: “It’s my job to be tough with my child, but they know I love them.” There is no doubt that authoritarian parents love their children. But as parents we must realize that it is not enough that we love them. They must feel our love. It doesn’t matter that you see yourself as a loving parent if your child doesn’t feel the same.  

The second issue with authoritarian parents is that they don’t listen to their children. They don’t take their feelings and opinions into account. Therefore, children do not feel heard. They feel ignored. Their self-esteem may struggle because the message they are getting is that they are not worthy of being heard.  

I am not saying that you must always follow your children’s opinions. Families are a hierarchy, where parents are in charge. But it is important that our children feel valued and heard.   

I am an authoritarian parent but would like to become more authoritative. What can I do? 

The good news is that we can change and improve the way we parent. It is not easy, but it can be done.  Here are some tips: 

  • Try to be more authoritative:  The more authoritative you can be, the better for your child. Authoritative parents are warm and responsive. They encourage trust and intimacy. They set high expectations and clear rules. They take into consideration their children’s opinions and feelings. In turn, children tend to do well across all aspects of life (5).  

  • Change your discipline style: Instead of yelling and using harsh punishments, try using logical consequences (6). These are consequences that directly address the behavior that the child should change or stop doing. For example, if your child leaves their bike in the middle of the driveway, the bike gets put away for an hour. If your child never puts their laundry in their basket, their clothes won’t be washed unless in the basket. This approach works much better than enforcing random, unrelated punishments.  

  • Be mindful of your emotions: Very often when we become angry with our children is because we have lost our temper. Understand what your triggers are, so you can control how you respond to your child. Feeling angry towards your child is not a problem. The problem may be what we do with that anger.  

  • Reflect on how you were raised: Were your parents very harsh with you? Did they use corporal punishment? Did you feel heard? Consider how it made you feel as a child and whether you want to raise your child in a similar environment, or whether you want to change. 

  • Rather than trying to change everything at the same time, focus on changing specific behaviours 

  • Seeking professional advice may be a good idea. At REC Parenting we have a team of parenting experts, ready to support you and your family. Get in touch here! It’s never too late to become the parent you want to be.  

However, be mindful that the term ‘authoritarian’ doesn’t mean the same across all cultures. 

Parenting is influenced by the culture we live in. Authoritarian parenting is more common in non-Western cultures, and in ethnic minorities living in Western countries.  

Why? Because some non-Wester countries are collectivistic. Collectivistic cultures consider that the group is more important than the individual. An authoritarian parenting style seems to work better to get children to conform to values such as conformity, self-control, and humility, which are very important in collectivistic countries.  

Parents in these cultures may use guilt, shame and scolding to discipline their children. But contrary to what happens in the Western world, these practices are not linked with negative outcomes for children (7).  


Authoritarian parenting is not the best for our children. If this is your style, don’t despair. It is never too late to become more authoritative. You can achieve it with the proper guidance, work, and persistence. At REC Parenting we are here to help you. 

And remember, the perfect parent does not exist. As parents we need to get it right more often than not.

I hope you have find this article helpful. As always, do get in touch if you have any questions or comments.

Much love,


Dr Ana Aznar


  1. Camisasca, E., Miragoli, S., Di Blasio, P., & Feinberg, M. (2022). Pathways among negative co-parenting, parenting stress, authoritarian parenting style, and child adjustment: The Emotional Dysregulation Driven Model. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 31(11), 3085–3096. 
  1. Carroll, P. (2021). Effectiveness of positive discipline parenting program on parenting style, and child adaptive behavior. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 53(6), 1349–1358. 
  1. Smetana, J. G. (2017a). Current research on parenting styles, dimensions, and beliefs. Current Opinion in Psychology, 15, 19–25. 
  1. Smetana, J. G. (1994). Parenting styles and beliefs about Parental Authority. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 1994(66), 21–36. 
  1. Lavrič, M., & Naterer, A. (2020). The power of authoritative parenting: A cross-national study of effects of exposure to different parenting styles on Life Satisfaction. Children and Youth Services Review, 116, 105274. 
  1. Robichaud, J.-M., Mageau, G. A., Soenens, B., Mabbe, E., Kil, H., Frenette, J., & Roy, M. (2024). Should parents combine reasoning with firm control to nurture adolescent socialization? comparing logical consequences with mild punishments. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue Canadienne Des Sciences Du Comportement. 
  1. Chao, R. K. (1994). Beyond Parental Control and authoritarian parenting style: Understanding Chinese parenting through the cultural notion of training. Child Development, 65(4), 1111–1119. 

Smacking children: what the research says.

The topic of whether it is OK or not to smack children is highly controversial. Some people think that it is totally unacceptable, whereas others see it as a perfectly acceptable discipline technique. So, today I want to look at the data on this topic with the aim of opening up a conversation on this highly divisive subject. Rest assured that I am not trying to shame anyone. Stick with me! 

Before we move on, let’s clarify what we mean by ‘smacking’: Hitting a child with an open hand on the buttocks, legs or arms with the intention of modifying their behaviour.

First things first: How many parents actually smack their children? 

As usual, most of the data available comes from the US.  Eighty per cent of parents in the US report smacking their children, although this number is in decline. Nearly 1/3 of parents in the US who report spanking their child, do so every week. Around the world it is estimated that 63% of children aged 2-4 (this is 250 million children) experience corporal punishment on a regular basis. 

When asked about attitudes towards smacking a You Gov poll conducted in the UK in 2022 showed that of 3,000 adults asked, 68% said that physically disciplining a child is not acceptable and 64% backed that England should illegalize it.  As you can tell, attitudes are still pretty divided. 

Why do parents smack their children? 

Many parents still think of smacking as a useful parenting tool, maybe that is how they were raised, and they don’t know any other way to discipline their children. Other parents use the argument of I was hit as a child and I’m fine!” (sounds familiar?).   Child therapist Justin Coulson wrote a great piece in the New York Times where he outlined the errors of this argument. To me the most compelling is that when we use this argument, we are supporting it on our experience alone and ignoring everyone else’s experience. It is similar to saying “I got totally wasted last night, walked half-naked around the city, and I am fine!” Do we think it is safe or wise to get wasted and walk around half-naked? Would you recommend it to others? Just because I was not negatively affected (as far as I can tell), it doesn’t mean that it will be fine for everyone else.  Also, how do we determine being “fine”? We are in a relationship? We have a job? Just because we cannot recognize the harm in something does not mean harm is not present. 

Andre Hunter via Unsplash

OK, so what does the research say? How bad is it really to smack a child?

There are over five decades of research on this topic with over 160,000 children. The bottom line is this: there is not ONE SINGLE study that has found that smacking children is good for them. Most studies find that smacking is negative for children and a few studies found no negative consequences for children. So, at worst smacking has negative effects and at best it has no effects but what is clear is that it does not have any positive effects. 

The negative effects found on children who are smacked are quite a few:  they are more likely to be aggressive, develop behaviour problems (e.g., bullying), show mental health problems (e.g., depression), get on worse with their parents, are more rebellious, and have a higher risk of being physically injured and of being abused. 

Yes, but… Do all researchers agree with the summary you have just given? 

Most researchers in this field agree with what I have just explained, but a very small minority are not that convinced. Why? The truth is that examining smacking is not that easy. The best way to examine the effects of any parenting behaviour on children’s development is to do experimental studies. How would this look in the case of smacking? We would take two groups of parents and children: over a period of time, one group will smack their children and the other one will not. We would then measure children’s outcomes. As you have guessed, this kind of experimental research is totally unethical and it’s never going to happen (thankfully). Therefore, we need to rely on correlational and intervention studies that use observations and parents’ and children’s reports. 

Critics also say that smacking has been analysed together with more extreme types of physical punishment (e.g., kicking or hitting) and that it is very different to smack a child than to kick them or seriously hurt them. It is true that early researchers did analyse together many different forms of physical punishment but more recent research has analysed smacking on its own, and the findings still stand: Smacking is bad for children although not as bad as other more severe types of physical punishment.

This type of research is not perfect, but it is the best we have. And when decades of research with a sizable number of parents and children consistently show that it is bad to smack children, we can say pretty confidently that we should not smack children. 

I buy your argument but sometimes it seems that smacking is the only way my children will listen. If I don’t smack, how do I discipline my children?

The aim of discipline is to make our children understand why what they did was bad. Smacking our child does not achieve this, instead we are scaring our children. When we smack our children, they may stop doing what they are doing but not because they understand that what they are doing is wrong but because they are afraid of us, and they want us to stop. 

Rather than smacking your children, try explaining why their behaviour was wrong. And be consistent, try to explain it every time they behave that way. After many repetitions, they will get the message. Punish your children but try using “connected consequences”. What does this mean? If the rule in your house is that your child has to place the dirty clothes in the hamper but instead they leave them on the bathroom floor, rather than telling them that they cannot play video games for a month, use a connected consequence. Tell them that clothes that are not in the hamper, will not be washed and therefore they won’t have clothes to play sports or go out with their friends. By doing this, they are getting a negative consequence for their actions and at the same time you are directly addressing the issue. 

Finally, remember that when we smack a child it is usually because we have lost our patience. So, if we want to use better discipline techniques, we need to work on ourselves. Learn what your triggers are and the techniques we can use to stop us from losing our patience. Remember that feeling anger towards our children is not a problem, what may be a problem is what we do with this anger. If you feel that you lose your temper more often that you would like, do get in touch with your REC Parenting therapist, this is definitely something they can help you with. Does this mean that we will always get it right? No, we are human, and we will lose it sometimes, the important thing is that we get it right more often than not. 

We hope that you have this information useful. Do get in touch at if you have any questions or comments. 

Much love, 


Dr Ana Aznar

Registered in England & Wales. Company No.13460950. Registered office Salatin House, 19 Cedar Road, Sutton, SM2 5DA, United Kingdom

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