There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We each have a unique style or approach to parenting that comes from our own experiences. We parent according to what we had seen, our culture, our religion, and what we experienced when we were parented. While our parenting style may largely be automatic, many parents are curious about which style they use, the pros and cons, and which has the best outcome for their child. And no wonder; your parenting style greatly influences your child’s well-being, relationships, and growth and development. Based on research in the 1960s, three key parenting styles, like gentle parenting, are still relevant today, one of which is permissive parenting.1,2,3
The definition of permissive parenting, or as it is sometimes known, indulgent parenting, is a style of parenting where few demands are made on children. Parents are nurturing, accepting, and involved but don’t enforce control. They sometimes set rules but don’t follow through, and few consequences are in place. A permissive parenting style is not focused on helping children regulate or behave themselves, and expectations are low, so little discipline happens. These moms and dads often give in to their children or provide them with whatever they want to have a more friendship-style relationship than a parent-child relationship.4,5
Indulgent or permissive parenting is high in responsiveness and low in demands, but what does that look like? Here are some examples:6
- Parents rarely enforce rules.
- They involve their children in significant life choices.
- Parents want their children’s opinions and let them make their own decisions, even if they aren’t developmentally or emotionally capable of making those choices.
- They promote children’s independence.
- Parents don’t ask their kids to take on much responsibility, whether personally, within the home, family, or community.
- They are warm, nurturing, and in tune with their children.
- Parents are more likely to describe themselves as friends with their kids rather than their parent.
- They don’t have much structure.
- They might use bribery or other strategies to get their children to do things instead of setting boundaries, rules, consequences, or punishments.
- Any rules parents do have are likely to be inconsistent.
Permissive Parenting: Pros and Cons
There are several positives and negatives regarding a permissive parenting style.
Permissive parents tend to be warm, compassionate, affectionate, and highly responsive to their children. This warm and emotional responsiveness is protective and can reduce risky behavior in kids, including using drugs and alcohol. A permissive parenting style is associated with higher self-esteem and social well-being. This is because the parent is tuned in to their child, cares about their wants and needs, and promotes independence.7
While there are some strengths, permissive parenting has its downsides, and these are generally due to a lack of boundaries and expectations that our children need to thrive. Children with permissive parents find it harder to self-regulate, communicate, and share, which makes it hard for them socially. It can also result in delinquency and aggression or acting out. This is because they don’t learn how to manage when things don’t go their way. They also tend to experience lower achievement (including education). Because there are no expectations of them, they don’t feel supported to strive for anything. Still, because they don’t have structure, they don’t manage their time well and experience difficulties with self-limiting.8,9
On the surface, gentle parenting and permissive parenting can seem quite similar. So what is gentle parenting, and why is it sometimes confused with permissive parenting? It comes from the level of high responsiveness. Both gentle and permissive parents have a high level of warmth, affection, and compassion for their child(ren) while promoting their independence. People often perceive that gentle parenting is devoid of boundaries, but that is where the two styles differ. Gentle parenting is about recognizing a child’s capacity and sensitively setting appropriate boundaries. When it comes time for consequences, the gentle parent focuses on self-awareness and the emotional experiences of their child.10
If you identify with permissive parenting, or if you struggle with setting clear boundaries and enforcing rules, some strategies can help you change your parenting style:
If you set a consequence or punishment, you must follow through. So don’t set your child large, elaborate, or impossible consequences. If you can’t follow through, it undermines the point of the consequence.
With the above in mind, remember to pick your battles, particularly if you haven’t been setting boundaries consistently up until this point. You don’t need to create a battle out of everything or suddenly become too strict or harsh, as you’ll both end up exhausted and frustrated. Instead, be consistent and pick a few key behaviors or situations that mean something to you (like no lying).
If you don’t like or aren’t used to setting consequences, getting your child’s input might be helpful. This is age-dependent, but you could have a family conversation about the consequences of key behaviors or challenges. You will be surprised at how well kids engage in these conversations, and the consequence is more meaningful (and the lesson tends to be learned quicker) when they have input.
If you like having a mutually respectful or more equal relationship with your child, incorporate them more into the family in terms of helping out. They could take more responsibility for their stuff or activities of daily living (getting dressed, making their cereal, or putting away their dishes), or there could even be some things they can do to help around the house.
This is a great way of promoting positive behaviors. Instead of just focusing on punishment, notice when they are doing the right thing and ensure you share with them that you have noticed. Their self-esteem will certainly get a good boost from being seen doing something positive.
While there is no such thing as a perfect parent, if you notice you are a permissive parent or have permissive tendencies, it might help to change your approach. You can keep many of the same features that make permissive parenting wonderful but work on having higher expectations, boundaries, and rules. Although it may feel counterintuitive initially, giving your child structure and consistency will help them achieve socially, mentally, and emotionally.