What Is Permissive Parenting?

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Each of us parents our children a little differently, based on a combination of intuition and personal beliefs. Researchers have identified four different types of parenting styles, including authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and unresponsive. Diana Baumrind, a clinical psychologist, first recognized these four styles, and researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin further developed them.

One of these parenting styles is permissive parenting, which is sometimes referred to as “indulgent parenting.” It’s characterized by high levels of warmth from the parent, but low levels of structure and discipline. This type of parenting is usually not recommended by therapists and pediatricians.

Let’s take a deep look at this parenting style, including what defines it, some qualities of a permissive parent, the developmental impacts this style has on kids, and some ways that you can become less of a permissive parent.

What Is Permissive Parenting?

Permissive parents are often loving, but they don’t enforce many rules, says Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, pediatrician, founder, and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc and The Modern Mamas Club App. “Permissive parenting (aka indulgent parenting) is a parenting style with low demands on self-control or maturity, but a high emphasis on nurturing,” she describes. “As a parent and a pediatrician, I would not recommend this parenting style.”

Parents who practice this parenting style often employ a “hands-off” type of approach, explains Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and a program coordinator at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center. These types of parents do not set limits, provide structure for their kids, and don’t usually guide their kids toward self-responsibility or healthy emotional regulation.

Like Dr. Casares, Dr. Mendez does not recommend this parenting style. “[Permissive parenting] runs the risk of interrupting the development of judgment and taking responsibility with the larger context of societal and behavioral norms,” she says.

Qualities of a Permissive Parent

It’s not as though there are no positive qualities to permissive parents, says Meghan Downey, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. Many permissive parents are emotionally responsive and attuned to their children. The problem is that permissive parents are generally lenient and indulgent, Dr. Downey explains.

“Permissive parents include someone who is less likely to reinforce a consequence, provides little structure, and gives their child little responsibility,” Dr. Downey describes. “They present themselves as more of a ‘friend’ than a parent.”

Some other qualities of a permissive parent include a parent who often would rather not deal with managing a child’s behavior challenges, says Dr. Mendez. In many cases, they leave the “raising” of the child to the child themselves.

“Permissive parents can seem uninvolved because they avoid redirection, setting structure, or teaching appropriate behavioral boundaries,” says Dr. Mendez. As a result, these parents usually aren’t able to teach their children the types of functional and adaptive skills kids need for proper development, Dr. Mendez notes.

Examples of Permissive Parenting

Permissive parents try to stay out of the picture when it comes to providing boundaries or consequences for their kids. This approach may look different, depending on the circumstances and the age of the child.

“For example, if a child hit a sibling, a permissive dad wouldn’t dole out a consequence,” Dr. Casares offers. “In fact, he might not even say a thing to address the behavior.” Similarly, if a child didn’t want to pick up their mess of toys, a permissive parent wouldn’t try and press the issue. “[The parent would] stay silent and pick them up themselves,” says Dr. Casares.

Other examples of permissive parenting might include a parent who doesn’t enforce bedtimes, and as a result, the child doesn’t get the necessary sleep they need, says Dr. Mendez. Permissive parenting might also look like a parent who lets a child eat whatever they want, without thought to the nutritional value of a child’s dietary needs, Dr. Mendez adds.

For older children, permissive parenting might look like a parent who allows their child to engage in activities outside the home, but who has little knowledge of their whereabouts or who they are interacting with.

“In this situation, a parent may be giving the child a level of self-determination that the child may not be ready to manage,” says Dr. Mendez. “Often, the parent may not want to upset the child by setting limits, and allowing unsupervised, untimely, and unprepared activities to take place.”

Effects of Permissive Parenting

While permissive parents often have their children’s emotional interests at heart and are usually affectionate and warm, by neglecting to provide boundaries and rules, they may thwart certain important developmental skills their children need to develop.

Research shows that children raised by permissive parents are more likely to develop poor eating habits, which can result in health problems down the road. They are also less likely to engage in structured routines around sleep, completion of schoolwork, and screen time, which can lead to suboptimal life skills and habits.

Children raised in this parenting style can develop low self-confidence and may exhibit aggressive behavior. They may have diminished self-regulation skills and may appear self-centered, difficult, and impetuous.

While some research has found that kids raised by permissive parents have moderately positive social skills, other research has found that these children don’t always have well-developed social skills. For example, a study published in the journal Aggressive Behavior found that kids brought up in this style often develop relationships marked by social aggression and that the effects of growing up with less discipline can have long-term effects on building positive relationships with others.

How to Be Less of a Permissive Parent

Again, permissive parenting isn’t completely negative. “Permissive parents tend to be very loving and emotionally attuned to their child’s needs,” says Dr. Downey. “Oftentimes permissive parents report good communication between themselves and their children.”

Still, Dr. Downey and other experts note that it’s important that these qualities be balanced with structure and limits so that your child can develop self-regulation and positive social skills. One thing you can do, says Dr. Casares, is become more familiar with the authoritative style of parenting, which combines the warmth of permissive parenting, with more healthy boundaries.

“Children who are parented with this style are more likely to have secure attachments to their parents, exhibit good self-control, have advanced decision-making skills, and develop more resilience as they grow older,” she says.

Things you can do to add more authoritative qualities to your parenting style include instituting a few house rules, along with consequences for when they are broken. You can also take opportunities to reward your child’s positive behavior, Dr. Casares suggests. Employ logical consequences, like losing privileges, whenever possible.

Another step you can take is to consider your own role in your child’s life, Dr. Mendez recommends. “Intentionally present yourself as an authority who has the child’s best interest and well-being at heart,” she says. “Parents need to be role models to support a child’s learning tolerance of living through and coping with rules, regulations, and boundaries.”

A Word From Verywell

Many of us employ permissive parenting techniques at one time or another. After all, it can be exhausting to always enforce rules and consequences for our kids. Still, children thrive with structure and developmentally appropriate limits. Successfully parenting our kids means finding a balance of the emotional closeness that permissive parents cultivate, along with proper discipline, so that our children can grow up into functional adults.

If you are unsure about how to find this balance or are having challenges when it comes to parenting your child, please reach out to your child's pediatrician or a child therapist for help and support.

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6 Sources
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