In the world of raising kiddos, there are various parenting styles that we tend to gravitate toward, whether intentional or not. Permissive parenting is one of the currently trending, yet more controversial ways to raise a child.
Permissive parenting, also known as indulgent parenting, is a type of parenting style characterized by “low demands with high responsiveness.”
Permissive parents usually want to be viewed as a “friend” rather than a figure of authority. Although permissive parents are very responsive to a child’s emotional needs, they typically do not set limits or reinforce boundaries.
Permissive parenting is across the spectrum from helicopter parenting, where parents hover over a child’s every move—providing a ton of direction, discipline, and feedback.
Permissive Parenting Traits
According to clinical psychologist Diana Baumrind, who researched and described three of the four major parenting styles, permissive parents are “more responsive than they are demanding.
They’re nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation.” If you’re still unsure of your parenting style, ask yourself:
- Do you always say “yes” to your children’s demands?
- Do you give few or inconsistent rules?
- Do you avoid disciplining your children because you don’t want to ruin your carefree relationship with them?
- Do you let your children take part in major decisions—even those typically reserved for adults or guardians?
- Do you place very little responsibility on your children? Emphasizing freedom over accountability?
If so, you are most likely practicing permissive parenting.
Permissive parenting should not be confused with free-range parenting, another laissez-faire parenting style but one with higher general expectations.
Examples of Permissive Parenting
Here are several scenarios that can help you better determine if you are practicing permissive parenting:
- Activities without limitations: Permissive parents often allow their children to have unlimited screen time, constant playdates, and open-ended access to food (snacking). There are no limits or rules enforced, or the limitations and enforcement are inconsistent.
- No consistent bedtime: Children of permissive parents often lack a daily routine including a consistent bedtime. They are allowed to go to sleep whenever and wherever (i.e. floor, couch, etc.) they want.
- Cooperation comes in the form of bribery: Any child who is given the power to call the shots at home will develop a bossy attitude and likely push back when asked to do something they do not want to do. To get them to cooperate without risk being viewed as a figure of authority, permissive parents will often bribe their kids with gifts, toys, or activities.
Pros and Cons of Permissive Parenting
Four major parenting styles have been identified by experts: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful.
Although no one parenting style is perfect, permissive parenting is often frowned upon.
Researchers have found that the overly relaxed approach to parenting exhibited by permissive parents can lead to a variety of negative outcomes including:
- Lower achievement in many areas, including lower academic performance; when there are no expectations or the bar is set too low, children have little or nothing to strive for
- Poor decision making and problem-solving skills; a lack of rules or guidelines means some children have difficulty assessing right from wrong or they struggle with real-world challenges
- Attention-seeking behavior; without the establishment of boundaries, some children go on to engage in risky behaviors including alcohol and substance abuse or are more prone to taking unnecessary and dangerous risks
- Less emotional or aggressive; children who always get what they want can exhibit hostile or aggressive behavior when they are told “no” or they can present as less emotional than other children because they have not learned to handle a varying degree of emotions
“Children raised in permissive homes, where there is a lack of boundaries, limits, and structure, tend to have difficulties with self-discipline and self-regulation.
These children are often not held accountable for their actions and, as a result, may struggle socially and academically.
Studies also show that children raised in permissive homes are often more aggressive and impulsive, compared with their peers who have more authoritative parents,” says Debbie Zeichner, LCSW.
While the general consensus on permissive parenting is that it is bad, this style does have some positive aspects.
“While there are negative impacts of this style of parenting, permissive parents are said to be warm and nurturing. They are emotionally supportive and responsive to the needs of the child,” Zeichner explains.
One study showed that children raised by permissive parents scored equal to or better in the categories of self-esteem, competence, psychosocial maladjustment, and problem behaviors, compared to those whose parents followed an authoritative style.
There’s no one right way to parent, but if you tend to be an overly permissive parent, you might consider adding more structure and support.
Help your children understand your expectations and guidelines and be consistent about your enforcement of these rules.
And, don’t forget to reward good behavior. Positive reinforcement can help your child develop a positive self-esteem and grow up with the skills they need to succeed in life.