Parenting… what are ya gonna do, right? Like, seriously, that’s the million-dollar question — what should you do? From the moment you decide to grow your family, the question will plague you. Whether you’re trying to decide what color to paint the nursery or wondering whether you should let your 11-year-old on social media (or all that lies between), there is always a question to be asked. And one that we as parents ask ourselves by the minute is whether our parenting style is healthy for our children. To that end, we’re going to discuss permissive parenting: one of the four styles of developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind’s parenting style paradigm, which also includes authoritarian, uninvolved, and authoritative. There are also the more modern styles that include attachment, free-range, and positive parenting.
What are the four types of parenting styles?
You may be wondering who Diana Baumrind is. Well, suffice it to say she’s highly regarded in the psychology community — and one of her most famous contributions to the field was the identification of four universal parenting styles. She laid out her paradigm back in the 1960s while doing research at the University of California, where she studied how parenting approaches correlated with children’s behavior.
From that research and observation, she first pinpointed three distinct parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive or indulgent. Later, neglectful or uninvolved parenting would round her paradigm out to four. These four parenting styles effectively still form the foundation for much of the analysis of childhood behavior that takes place today.
What is permissive parenting?
If we had to sum up permissive parenting in one word, it would probably be lax. Permissive parenting is really rooted in a “kids will be kids,” I’m-both-a-parent-and-friend approach. In fact, if it tells you anything, this parenting style is sometimes referred to interchangeably by another name: indulgent parenting. Permissive parents are warm and nurturing, yes, but they’re also hesitant to discipline because they don’t want to disappoint their children.
“Permissive parenting is a parenting style that tends to be very gentle and affectionate, with few rules or expectations for how a child should behave,” child therapist Katie Lear explained to Scary Mommy. “These parents tend to be great at all of the warm, fuzzy interactions that build strong attachment but may allow children to behave in ways that are younger than their developmental age. Rules may not be clearly stated, or they may be easy to negotiate, and punishments are often mild or inconsistent.”
Damon Nailer, a parent educator with the Children’s Coalition of Northeast Louisiana — and a dad! — says he personally classifies this style of parent as “the friend.” He shared, “This type of parent does not emphasize the importance of rules, regulations, and boundaries but concentrates on having fun and being the child’s buddy. They are extremely passive and allow the child(ren) to do almost anything.”
This is because the permissive parent prioritizes their child’s feelings above all else — for better or worse. “For the parent who uses this parenting style, the most important dynamic of the relationship with the child is the child’s happiness,” said Nailer. “As long as the child is pleased and gets their way, everything is fine.”
What is an example of permissive parenting?
“If you’ve ever heard a parent say, ‘I don’t say no to my child,’ that is a classic example of permissive parenting,” said Lear, adding, “A permissive parent might also allow a child to do things more typical of younger children, such as drinking out of a bottle as a preschooler.” Permissive parents tend to let their kids decide for themselves when they’re ready to do something on their own — or not do it — instead of steering the direction.
Looking for a recent example of what many may categorize as permissive parenting? Speaking to People magazine in January 2020, actress Alicia Silverstone revealed that she reprimands her son with a simple, “No, thank you.” While Silverstone does technically tell her son “no,” many would argue that a “no, thank you” to an unruly child would certainly qualify as a more lenient approach.
What is the difference between permissive parenting and positive parenting (or positive discipline)?
It’s all in the name really. While permissive and positive parents both eschew the traditional idea of punishment, scolding, or power dynamic between parents and children, the positive parenting style doesn’t completely do away with discipline. They instead follow the four rules of positive discipline:
— Redirection: Turning a child’s attention away to something else while they are having a tantrum or acting out.
— Positive Reinforcement: Giving your child positive reinforcement when they are doing something good. Like cleaning up after play time or sharing a toy. This gives the child positive attention for good behavior and not just when when they’re misbehaving.
— Time-Ins instead of Time-Outs: Sitting with your child when they’ve acted out in a time in instead of forcing them to be alone during a time out.
— One-Word reminders: Say “brush” instead of “brush your teeth,” “shoes” instead of put your shoes on.
Does permissive parenting work?
It goes without saying that whether something “works” or not could vary from person to person depending on their point-of-view. But most professionals agree that if you look at the pros and cons of permissive parenting, the cons carry a bit more weight. “Permissive parents are often as loving and nurturing as we would hope any parent to be, but this style of parenting does not provide children with the boundaries, limits, and structure that children need in order to thrive,” Michelle Harris, founder of Parenting Pathfinders, said to Scary Mommy.
In short, children do best when parents provide a bit more structure and direction. Elaborated Harris, “Limited rules, the inconsistency of consequences, and a focus on freedom rather than responsibilities tend to have a negative impact on a child’s social and emotional development. In permissive households, children are given the power to make big decisions which can, over time, leave children feeling burdened.”
Permissive parenting frequently leads to one of two outcomes: You end up with a child who suffers from anxiety due to a perceived lack of structure and support, or you end up with a child who’s entitled and has other behavioral issues (more on that below).
What are the possible effects of permissive parenting on a child?
Obviously, you want deets on some of the unintended results that come from being a permissive parent. So, Scary Mommy asked Harris to rattle off a few. “Research has shown that the children of permissive parents have more difficulty regulating their emotions, utilizing coping strategies to manage big feelings, have more social challenges, and have a difficult time adhering to rules and boundaries as they grow,” she shared.
Dr. Elie Cohen of Cohen Psychological Services echoed this take on the side effects of permissive parenting, saying, “Studies show consistently that the healthiest outcomes are when there is a balance of structure and love. In this style, you will see the love element but not the structure. These children often develop into adults who are self-centered, impulsive, dependent on others, aggressive, and have poorly defined goals.”
Nailer goes so far as to call it the “least effective” of the four parenting styles and notes that it has “tremendous drawbacks.”
Permissive parenting can have consequences for the permissive parent, too. While you’re fulfilling the nurturing and bonding sides of your nature, a large part of your parenting experience will leave you feeling unfulfilled — and worse, resentful. You could ultimately feel trapped and powerless to your own child’s demands, which in turn leads to feelings of anxiety, anger, or frustration. And because permissive children may develop negative behavior such as a sense of entitlement, you could be plagued by the feeling that you’re a failure as a parent.
What is the difference between permissive parenting and uninvolved parenting?
Uninvolved, or neglectful, parenting is similar to permissive parenting in the sense that children are often allowed to make their own decisions. However, whereas permissive parents are warm and nurturing toward their children, uninvolved parents are decidedly less so.
This type of parenting style takes the “laissez-faire” approach to the extreme — kids aren’t given many rules or guidance. Those kiddos essentially raise themselves because their parents are so hands-off with their offspring. So, while uninvolved parents expect next to nothing of their children, it’s not all fun and games for the kids. Unlike the permissive style of parenting, there exists just as little nurturing as there are expectations.
What should you do if one parent is permissive and the other is not?
If you and your significant other are always on the same parenting page, well, consider yourself lucky! But if you suspect you may have a different parenting style than your partner, that’s totally normal, too. In fact, it probably sounds about right for a lot of us.
“It’s common for parents to have different approaches to parenting — opposites attract,” reassured Lear. “Permissive parents can teach their stricter counterparts to tap into the loving, caring side of themselves that more authoritarian parents may lack. An authoritative or authoritarian parent can help the permissive parent to establish firm, clear boundaries that will not only help shape a child’s behavior but create a healthier parent-child relationship in the long run.”
Ultimately, you’re going to have to get more comfortable with keeping the lines of communication wide open.
“If one parent is permissive and the other isn’t, it’s important to find a way to get on the same page about how you will respond to various challenges that come along,” said Harris. “Consistency is a crucial element of parenting, and it’s important for parents to work to get to a place where there is compromise and balance between their differing parenting styles.”
Of course, if you are on the same parenting page but that page is one of the more problematic parenting styles, you probably want to address it as well. You can start by taking a long, honest look at your own behavior.
What should you do if you realize you’re a permissive parent?
Do you tend to cave in to your kids’ demands to avoid a fight? Do you feel like they won’t love you as much or if you’ll let them down if you don’t give them what they want? Maybe you just don’t believe in a set bedtime. Or you often bribe your kids to get them to do something you want or need them to do.
Sound familiar? First of all, give yourself some grace, Mama. There are far worse things you could be. And let’s not forget that permissive parents are extremely warm and nurturing toward their children — that sort of TLC isn’t without merit. Plus, it’s safe to say almost every parent uses these tactics sometimes. However, since studies show that permissive parenting can have some adverse effects on children, it’s not a bad idea to take a closer look at what you might be able to tweak in your approach.
It’s helpful, too, if you understand your core motivation for being a permissive parent. It’s a lot easier to disrupt a harmful pattern if you know where it may have started. “Some parents see permissive parenting as the only alternative to the authoritarian parenting style they grew up with, and vow not to intimidate their children as they had once been intimidated,” explained Jen Lumanlan, founder of the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. “This tends to backfire when the child ‘walks all over’ the parents and refuses to comply with even small attempts to gain the child’s compliance.”
If this sounds like you and you aren’t sure how to shift gears to a more balanced parenting style, consider reaching out to a family therapist. They’ll be able to help you course-correct and, hopefully, get to the bottom of any undesirable parenting patterns.
Quotes about parenting and permissive parenting
“[Permissive parents] are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation.” — Diana Baumrind
“Indulgent parenting is a style of parenting in which parents are very involved with their children but place few demands or controls on them.” — John Santrock, author of Child Development
“Permissive parents, while often warm and accepting, make few demands on their children. They’re lenient, avoid confrontation, and allow considerable self—regulation. They may worry about thwarting the child’s creativity and sense of self. They’re much more responsive than they are demanding. Sometimes the Permissive style is based on confusion. The parents are so out of touch with the pre-adolescent and adolescent world that the best they can do is to try to be a pal to their child. So they tend to give their kids what they ask for and hope that they are loved for their accommodating style. Other Permissive parents want to compensate for what they themselves lacked as children. Perhaps they grew up in poverty and/or had parents who were overly strict. So as a result, seeing themselves as an ally to their child, these parents bend over backwards to give the child both the freedom and the material goods they lacked.” Dr.Maryann Rosenthal, author of Be A Parent, Not A Pushover
“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.” ― Franklin P. Adams, newspaper columnist
“Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.” — Oprah Winfrey
“The thing about parenting rules is there aren’t any. That’s what makes it so difficult.” — Ewan McGregor
“No matter how much time you spend reading books or following your intuition, you’re gonna screw it up. Fifty times. You can’t do parenting right.” — Alan Arkin
“For me, being a mother made me a better professional, because coming home every night to my girls reminded me what I was working for. And being a professional made me a better mother, because by pursuing my dreams, I was modeling for my girls how to pursue their dreams.” — Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States
“I became the kind of parent my mother was to me.” — Maya Angelou
“Strict parents are responsible for sneaky children.” — Unknown
“Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done. I tried to find the balance between the strict, traditional Chinese way I was raised, which I think can be too harsh, and what I see as a tendency in the West to be too permissive and indulgent. If I could do it all again, I would, with some adjustments.” — Amy Chua
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” — Robert Fulghum
“But kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” — Barbara Kingsolver
“If we don’t shape our kids, they will be shaped by outside forces that don’t care what shape our kids are in.” — Dr. Louise Hart