Over fifty years of research has given us clear information on what is the most supportive and positive type of relationship that yields the best parent-child outcome. Baumrind (1965) talks about one positive style called the Authoritative parenting style and three negative parenting style- Authoritarian, Verbose and Permissive. 

 The Authoritative parent has been identified as the most positive parenting style, because it results in positive outcomes for both the parent and the child. The most important characteristics of  an Authoritative parent is:

  1. They serve as a guide
  2. They allow the child to make their own decisions and the parent respects those decisions
  3. And the most difficult of the three; the parent is able to demonstrate respect by allowing the child the opportunity to experience both the positive and negative consequences of their decisions. Experiencing the positive is easy…allowing them to feel the consequence of the negative decision, well that can sting! This characteristic is key though.

    Being able to facilitate this, is not a friendship. At the root of Authoritative parent is the word authority. And the parent MUST be willing to BE an authority. It may seem obvious that the parent does have an authority in the relationship, but the challenge with parenting is not having the authority, it is WHAT we do with the authority. Using your authority ‘ OVER' the child, that is wrong. That is controlling and falls into one of the three  negative parenting styles, also shown in the research, called the Authoritarian style.

Rather than controlling, the Authoritative parent uses their authority as an expert. This parent acknowledges that they have some expertise in life and they are willing to offer and share their experiences as a way to guide their child. The Authoritative parent uses their expertise to show their child what options are available and to supports them in their decisions-making. They then step back and allows the child to,  as my daughter once told me, "experience my experiences”. This is stark contrast to its similar sounding opposite Authoritarian, which basically says I know best, I will tell you what to do and you better do it. It is typically justified with the statement, I’m only trying to protect you!.

The parents that want to be besties with their kids, are typically using one of the other two negative parenting styles: the Verbose or Permissive parenting style. These styles focus on avoiding or ignoring conflict and challenges in the relationship. The Verbose style seeks agreement or negotiates with child. These parents tend to try to over explain, because they want their child to be on their team, on their side, in order to avoid conflict and most important they want the child happy and to view them as a ‘friend' or ‘cool'’.  What this does is undermine the parent’s ability to set limits with the child and results in the parent focusing on protecting the relationship rather than really doing what’s best for the child. Sometimes what’s best for the child is saying no. The Laxed parent simply ignores the child’s poor behavior, again in a effort to protect the relationship. It is the direct opposite of guidance.  

* Can you be best friends with your child, and be their parent at the same time - or do you need to draw a line?

An Authoritative parent is willing to set limits and boundaries, and when you are trying to seek agreement and negotiate or over explain, then by virtue of that you are undermining your ability to set that limit with your child. So therefore, no, you can’t be best friends and set limits and boundaries. A best friend is seeking agreement without strict limits, a parent must set limits. 

* Is the age of a child a factor in this? And at what age should you start parenting less, and become more of a friend? 

There’s never an age that you should become a friend. The studies show that when you are an Authoritative parent, you become a consultant to your child and that consultative approach is most likely to have the child come to you for support and guidance throughout adulthood. It’s the dynamic of a respectful relationship. Your parenting style sets the foundation of the relationship for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that Authoritative parents demonstrate stable relationships with their children throughout their lives. 

* What are some problems with being less of a parent and more of a friend in the early years (if there is a problem? 

Parents that seek to be their child’s best friend are using the negative parenting style of Verbose or Lax/Permissive. The Verbose parent often uses lengthy, ineffective verbal reprimands. Research has linked this parenting style with children having challenges accepting limits and boundaries in their life and difficulty adjusting to changes or demands in the environment. This makes them less adaptable than their peers. Child anxiety is often associated with this parenting style, as the child always needs to ‘know’ or ‘understand’ everything and becomes insecure when this information is unavailable. 

The Permissive parent lacks consistency and uses ineffective limit setting, which is accompanies with indulgent and neglectful parenting. Especially since research shows that this parenting style has been associated with behavior and conduct problems in children. In late adolescence and adulthood it is linked directly to self-centeredness and poor adjustments to change. 

For more information please visit: www.juliaharperinc.com
Julia Harper, PhD, MS, OTR/L
President and CEO of Julia Harper Inc.
President and FOUNDER OF Therapeeds Inc. 

About Dr. Julia Harper

For over 20 years, Julia Harper, PhD, MS, OTR/L has worked as an occupational therapist focusing on creating brain-based therapeutic programs that tap into neuro-plasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and change, to support functional changes in the lives of people with motor, learning and behavioral difficulties. Julia is the president, owner and clinical director of TheraPeeds Family Center, TheraPeeds Continuing Education and Julia Harper, Inc.  TheraPeeds Family Center is a 30,000 square foot facility and a leading, world-renowned family center with over 55 employees, which provides intervention for both children and adults from all over the world, with the goal of maximizing their functioning potential.


She created the H.O.P.E (Harper’s Optimal Protocols for Enrichment) Method, which successfully leverages neuroplasticity to facilitate functional changes in the physiology of the brain and lives of her clients. To maximize plasticity, Julia has developed a sister-method, the W.A.Y (What About You) Method, which again taps into the principles of neuro-plasticity to facilitate change in the mind.  The goal is not only to produce functional physiological gains, but functional psychological gains as well. This method allows for change in behavior by moving the focus from the ‘what’ of our negative behaviors, to the more important ‘how’, so that we can create the necessary mind environment for positive behaviors to thrive.


To best serve, Julia knows needs to be an agent of change. This begins with the work she has done to change her own life, from becoming a Martha Beck certified life coach, certified Daring WAY facilitator with Brené Brown and studying with Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Byron Katie and others to the way she works to change the lives of her clients. She hopes that these changes have the ripple effect of changing the world. She is a firm believer that all change begins with her. Daily she lives this change to be the change.