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Authoritative vs. Authoritarian: Which Parenting Style Works?

Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Even though we hated it as children, we've all probably made a rule, since becoming parents, and justified it simply by saying, "because I said so."

When it comes to laying down the law in your household, a new study from Canada shows that authoritarian parents—moms and dads who set rules without any justification and act emotionally and swiftly when they are broken—have children that are over 30 percent more likely to be obese, compared with kids of parents who adopt an authoritative parenting style.

What's the difference, you ask? Authoritarian parenting is more like the commonly known "Tiger Mom." These parents are not warm or expressive with their children and when a child misbehaves, they are “most likely to respond emotionally and punish the child but not tell them what they had done wrong,” Lisa Kakinami, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University, tells Time.

Authoritative parents are more understanding, offering leniency if someone misbehaves. They also create a good foundation of understanding, justifying the rules they've laid out. Plus, when children do something positive, authoritative parents are more likely to praise their children.

So why are the children of authoritarian parents heavier? One theory is that if a parent forbids something, say candy or junk food, that item is made much more appealing simply because it is off-limits. If children understand why boundaries are set, they learn the art of self-control, which in turn can help with regulating eating habits.

Bottom line: Laying down the law is fine, as long as your kids know why it's the law. If they slip up, be sure to tell them why they were wrong, and be understanding.

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