Transformational Parenting

Just as businesses and organizations require effective  leadership  behaviors  in  order  to  grow  and develop successfully, it has been suggested that the same  is  required  within  families  in  order  to  foster  a  family  climate  that  promotes  healthy  child development.  Although  a  range  of  predictors  are associated with child and adolescent health, arguably  the  family  (and  especially  parents)  remains one  of  the  most  influential  determinants  of  child and  adolescent  health  behaviors.  Although  many theories  of  parenting  are  utilized  in  sport  and exercise  psychology,  a  contemporary  framework of  leadership  has  recently  been  extended  to  the parenting  domain  in  order  to  examine  the  influence of parenting behaviors in relation to physical activity  participation  (and  other  important  sport and  health-related  cognitions  and  behaviors)  in youth.

Grounded  in  transformational  and  transactional  leadership  theory,  which  was  initially  conceptualized  by  Bernard  Bass,  transformational parenting  comprises  four  behavioral  dimensions; idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual  stimulation,  and  individualized  consideration. When parents engage in idealized influence, they behave as role models to their children, lead through the demonstration of personally held values and beliefs, and are consistent and dependable. Inspirational  motivation  involves  parents  energizing  and  inspiring  their  children  to  go  beyond minimally accepted standards and displaying optimism with regard to what their child can achieve. Intellectual stimulation includes behaviors that get their children to think for themselves, encourages them to contribute to decision making and behaviors  that  are  respectful  of  their  children’s  ideas and  opinions.  And  finally,  when  parents  display individualized  consideration  they  show  a  genuine interest  in  their  children’s  life,  display  a  sense  of care  and  concern,  and  are  sensitive  to  their  children’s unique abilities and needs.

The  behaviors  that  underpin  transformational leadership in many ways parallel effective parenting  strategies.  For  example,  both  leaders  (within organizations) and parents (within families) aim to encourage those they lead to become increasingly autonomous  in  their  actions  and  seek  to  inspire and motivate them to achieve established goals or objectives. Furthermore, successful leadership and parenting both involve maximizing the quality of their  relationship  with  others.  It  is  the  focus  on higher  order  intrinsic  needs  of  followers  and  the long-term  vision  for  success  (rather  than  a  focus on  short-term  goals)  that  differentiates  transformational  leadership  theory  from  other  leadership theories and makes this framework especially pertinent to parenting.

Given  the  positive  associations  that  have  been demonstrated  between  transformational  leadership  and  important  follower  outcomes  in  diverse settings  (self-efficacy,  intrinsic  motivation,  leader satisfaction,  positive  affect),  and  the  significance of  parenting  in  promoting  adolescent  physical activity  and  health,  researchers  are  now  applying  transformational  leadership  to  the  parenting domain with a focus on understanding the effects of  specific  parenting  behaviors  on  child  and adolescent  physical  activity  and  health-related outcomes.

Although  empirical  research  integrating  principles from transformational leadership theory and parenting  is  at  a  relatively  early  stage,  a  growing number  of  studies  have  extended  this  framework to  parenting.  In  the  context  of  sport,  perceptions of transformational parenting behaviors are associated  with  adolescents’  own  use  of  transformational  leadership  behaviors  displayed  within their peer interactions in sport settings. Given the positive  associations  between  transformational leadership  and  important  group-level  outcomes, such  as  group  cohesion  and  improved  conflict management,  fostering  transformational  leadership in youth sport has important implications for subsequent participation and performance, and it is  plausible  to  suggest  that  this  can  be  enhanced through  parents’  own  use  of  transformational behaviors  in  the  home.  Furthermore,  research suggests that displays of transformational parenting may translate into less aggressive behaviors in youth sport. These outcomes arise as transformational  parenting  involves  behaving  in  ways  that fosters identification with the leader and desire to emulate  their  (prosocial)  behaviors.  Furthermore, transformational  parenting  involves  setting  high expectations for (appropriate) behavior and getting children and adolescents to think about alternative ways to overcome problems and frustrations, thus making it less likely that they will choose to enact aggressive behaviors.

Outside  of  the  sport  arena  and  from  an  exercise  and  health  psychology  perspective,  research has  demonstrated  positive  associations  between parents’ use of transformational leadership behaviors (transformational parenting) and adolescents’ self-efficacy  beliefs  to  engage  in  regular  physical activity  and  to  sustain  a  healthy  diet,  as  well  as indices  of  adolescent  psychological  well-being. Furthermore,  adolescents’  perceptions  of  transformational  parenting  are  also  associated  with their  actual  physical  activity  and  healthy  eating behaviors.  Interestingly,  these  studies  suggested that  both  mothers’  and  fathers’  use  of  transformational  parenting  was  associated  with  these improved  health-related  outcomes  among  adolescents. Transformational parenting is postulated to bring  about  improvements  in  health-related  cognitions by communicating high expectations with regard  what  adolescents  can  achieve,  thus  motivating  them  to  choose  to  enact  voluntary  health behaviors such as increasing their physical activity. Furthermore,  transformational  parenting  involves empowering  rather  than  controlling  behaviors and also creates conditions where adolescents are encouraged to think for themselves, thus bringing about  improved  self-regulation  to  engage  in  such behaviors.

In light of the predictive effects of transformational  parenting  behaviors  in  relation  to  adaptive  adolescent  exercise  and  other  health-related outcomes, it seems pertinent in future research to examine  the  potential  of  transformational  parenting  interventions.  Given  the  well  documented success  of  training  and  developing  transformational leadership in other diverse settings through relatively short-term intervention, this framework holds much promise for fostering adolescent health and  well-being  via  improvements  in  these  family leadership processes.


  1. Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  2. Morton, K. L., Barling, J., Rhodes, R. E., Mâsse, L. C., Zumbo, B. D., & Beauchamp, M. R. (2010). Extending transformational leadership theory to parenting and adolescent health behaviours: An integrative and theoretical review. Health Psychology Review, 4, 128–157.
  3. Morton, K. L., Wilson, A. H., Perlmutter, L. S., & Beauchamp, M. R. (2012). Family leadership styles and adolescent dietary and physical activity behaviours: A cross-sectional study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 9, doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-9-48
  4. Tucker, S., Turner, N. A., Barling, J., & McEvoy, M. (2010). Transformational leadership and children’s aggression in team settings: A short-term longitudinal study. The Leadership Quarterly, 21, 389–399.
  5. Zacharatos, A., Barling, J., & Kelloway, E. K. (2000). Development and effects of transformational leadership in adolescents. The Leadership Quarterly, 11, 211–226.

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