Permissive Parenting Style: Pros, Cons, Long-Term Effects
It’s 5:00 pm and your 6-year-old asks for a cookie. She had a snack an hour ago, and dinner is simmering on the stove. You know sugar probably isn’t what she needs right now. But you don’t want her to be hungry, even if dinner will be ready in 15 minutes. So you go ahead and hand her a cookie.
If you tend to say yes to most of your child’s requests, you might have a permissive parenting style.
Related: Parenting Styles to Emulate and Avoid
What Is Your Parenting Style?
There are three types of parenting styles, as defined by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind. Each style of parenting is defined by your level of demandingness and your level of responsiveness.
Demandingness refers to your expectations of your child.
Responsiveness refers to how much you take your child’s emotional experience into account.
Different Parenting Styles
- Permissive Parenting Style: Low demandingness, high responsiveness
- Authoritarian Parenting Style: High demandingness, low responsiveness
- Authoritative Parenting Style: Low demandingness, high responsiveness
Then there is the Neglectful Parenting Style — low demandingness, low responsiveness, which is not really a parenting style at all but rather uninvolved parenting.
What Is Permissive Parenting?
Permissive parents do not ask a lot of their children, but they’ll do almost anything their children ask.
Examples of Permissive Parenting
- Serving only the kids’ favorite foods for dinner, even if the food is not healthy or the adults do not enjoy eating it.
- Not having a set bedtime or curfew
- Buying a toy every time the child asks for one
- Applying rules inconsistently, such as making a rule that screen time ends at 8:30 but then allowing the child to stay on their devices longer.
Pros and Cons of Permissive Parenting
Parents who grew up with overly strict parents of their own or whose parents could not afford many luxuries when they were growing up tend to gravitate towards the permissive parenting style.
Often parents adopt this approach because they believe it is best for the parent-child relationship. They want their kids to be happy. Or they just don’t know how to say no, or it feels so much easier to just say yes.
Permissive parenting can make your child happy for the moment. It can also make your life easier for the moment. But the greater effects of permissive parenting are probably not worth it.
- Feels good to give your child what they want
- You meet (some of) your child’s needs
- You don’t have to put out as much effort when you are permissive.
- Difficulty respecting authority figures such as teachers or coaches.
- May struggle with academic performance
- May develop behavioral problems.
- Low self-esteem or other mental health issues in the teen years
The negative effects of permissive parenting are not just that kids will be “spoiled” or “not take no for an answer”. The truth is, children of permissive parents crave structure in their lives. All kids thrive when the adults responsible for them set and maintain clear limits.
Children feel safe when they know that their caretakers mean what they say. In fact, they often break rules just to test the limits. Consistency on the part of the adult makes them feel safe. Inconsistency and lack of boundaries lead to anxiety because kids don’t trust adults to keep them safe.
Why Authoritarian Parenting is Not the Answer
While permissive parenting expects too little of the child, its flip side, authoritarian parenting, expects too much. Authoritarian parents demand a lot from their children but they are rigid and inflexible.
An authoritarian parent might:
- Have a set bedtime of 8:00 and not veer from that rule, even on the Fourth of July to see the fireworks.
- Say “because I said so” when asked for the reason behind the rules
- Use punishments that make the child feel ashamed, such as isolation or screaming at the child
- Not be open to hearing the kids' “side of the story”
Authoritarian parents set firm limits but they are not open to the possibility of human error. They may not offer enough warmth or understanding in their efforts to stick to the rules. With this approach, kids may fear their parents or be less willing to ask them for help.
Authoritative Parenting: Firm and Loving
When Baumrind wrote about the different types of parenting styles, she did not view them as equal options. She was clear that authoritative parenting was the preferred approach.
Authoritative parents set high expectations and they are warm and responsive to their kids’ needs. Their rules are age-appropriate and realistic and they are applied consistently.
At the same time, these parents are in touch with their kids emotionally. They use a kind tone of voice and they explain the reasoning behind their rules. They know when to allow a little wiggle room too.
Authoritative parents might:
- Have a bedtime routine that includes storytime, cuddles, a lullaby, and then light out at 8:00 pm sharp.
- Talk about what manners are and why we use good manners.
- Serve fruit for an after-school snack, but swap it out for some hot chocolate when their kid had a particularly hard day at school.
- Allow a child to learn from the experience of choosing not to bring a coat on a chilly day, without saying “I told you so,” and with genuine empathy
Transitioning from Permissive to Authoritative
You can slowly work towards being less permissive while still remaining loving and nurturing to your children.
Start by figuring out a daily schedule that you can adhere to. Kids thrive on routine, and enforcing time-sensitive rules like dinner is at 6:00 or lights out at 8:00 is a good way to get started. Post your schedule on the fridge.
Next, brainstorm a few areas where you know you have been too permissive. Do you always buy something at Target, just to get your kids to be agreeable? Let them know ahead of time that you will be making some changes so they understand what to expect. Then stick to it!
Being a bit more structured while remaining warm and approachable is the best gift you can give your kids.
For more information about which type of parenting style is best for you and your kids, check out: 4 Popular Parenting Styles and How to Find Common Ground.
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Elisa is a well-known parenting writer. She is an expert on child behavior and certified in Positive Discipline.