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Permissive Parenting Style: What Is It All About?

What is the permissive parenting style and how does it relate to children’s development? Dive into the science behind this parenting style to discover more.
Parenting styles
Updated: May 16, 2024
Table of contents

Psychologists Baumrind, Maccoby and Martin quoted the four main parenting styles based on the degree to which parents are responsive and set limits to their children.

These four parenting styles are: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Neglectful.[1]

Authoritative parenting is the gold standard of parenting. In contrast, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful parenting are not that good for children.

In this article we are going to explore permissive parenting and how it relates to children’s development.

What Is Permissive Parenting?

Parenting styles

Permissive parenting (also known as indulgent parenting) refers to those parents who are affectionate, warm, and responsive towards their children but do not demand much of them.[2]

Permissive parents want to be their children’s friends. They avoid conflict. They do not monitor their children, nor they provide guidance and structure.  

They are very responsive to their children’s needs, to the point that they are considered to be at their children’s beck and call.  

Their discipline style is inconsistent. One day they may punish their children for misbehaving at school, whereas another day the same behaviour may go unpunished.

Children raised by permissive parents are more likely to: 

  • Be impulsive.
  • Not have a good academic achievement.
  • Have lower levels of emotional competence.
  • Show higher rates of school misconduct.
  • Show delinquent behaviour during adolescence.
  • Show deviant peer relations during adolescence.
  • Show internalizing (e.g., anxiety) and externalizing behaviours (e.g., aggression).
  • However, not everything is negative for children of permissive parents. They tend to have good self-esteem and good social skills.[3]

How to know if you are a permissive parent? 

You are permissive if you tend to:

  • Let your child figure things out by themselves.
  • Let your child do chores whenever they feel like it.
  • Not know where your child is or who they are out with.
  • Let your child decide when to go to bed, how much screen time to have, or eat snacks whenever they want.
  • Do whatever your child asks you to do. From driving them to places even if it is inconvenient for you to buying them whatever they ask for.
  • Give in so they stop crying or complaining.

Why Do Children of Permissive Parents Struggle To Regulate Themselves?

Permissive parents do not tend to set clear rules and expectations, nor do they discipline their children consistently. This means that children have fewer opportunities to practice their regulation skillsbecause they rarely experience frustration, disappointment, or anger.[4]

As parents, it is normal that we want to protect our children from experiencing negative events. But we must remember that they need to have opportunities to experience frustration, stress, and failure so they can learn to deal with them.

Why Is Permissive Parenting Linked With Delinquent Behaviour?

Permissive parents do not monitor their children well or not at all. Monitoring means to watch, supervise and be aware of our children’s activities. Children whose parents fail to monitor them are more likely to engage with the ‘wrong’ crowd and to engage in delinquent behaviour. Monitoring our children well is important, particularly during the teenage years.[5] 

The goal is to know what is going in your child’s life. If you are unsure about what monitoring your child means, think of it as: “Ask who, ask where, ask when.”

Is It True That When Parents Are Stressed, They Become More Permissive?

Parents’ stress influences their parenting.[6] Stressed parents are more likely to become authoritarian or permissive. When you are juggling many balls, sometimes something has got to give. That may mean relaxing your parenting and becoming more permissive. For other parents, stress means that they have a shorter ‘leash’ and they become more authoritarian.

Parents who can regulate their emotions when feeling stressed, are more likely to stay authoritative. In contrast, those parents who cannot regulate their emotions well, are more likely to become authoritarian or permissive when feeling stressed.

This means that it is especially important for parents to be aware of their own emotional state and reflect on how it may be influencing their parenting, and their children.

Does Permissive Parenting Work in Some Cultures?

Extensive research shows that across cultures, the style that works best is authoritative. However, it is important to remember that there are cultural differences in parenting. There is some research suggesting that in Spain, permissive parenting may be as good as authoritative parenting.[7] However, it is not clear if these findings reflect real differences or if they are due to methodological differences in the research.  

I Am a Permissive Parent: How Can I Become More Authoritative?

The good news for permissive parents is that you are already warm and caring, you just need to work on learning to set and keep rules and expectations.

Here are four tips:

  • Create a set of rules: Think of the three rules that you consider most important. Explain them to your children and establish what the consequences are if they don’t follow them.
  • Set expectations: What are the values that you would like your children to have? Tell them what you expect of them and set expectations.
  • Let go of fear: Sometimes parents don’t want to set rules or high expectations because they are afraid that their children will stop loving them or that they won’t like them. Children need limits. Your child will never stop loving you because you set some limits and rules. They may not like you for a bit, but they will love you. We need to be our children’s parents as opposed to their friends. Our role is to guide our children and monitor them until they are ready to fly the nest.
  • Do not try to change everything at the same time: You do not need to set up a hundred strict rules overnight. Make realistic and attainable adjustments and keep going.
  • Seeking professional may be advisable. Our REC Parenting therapists are ready to support you in this journey. Get in touch here. It’s never too late to become the parent you want to be.

What About Parents of Neurodivergent Kids?

Unsurprisingly, parenting neurodiverse children is more stressful than parenting typically developing children.[8] Parents of neurodivergent children are more likely to face extra challenges, such as financial pressure, difficult child behaviour, health problems, and unpredictable schedules (Neece & Chan, 2017). As a result, parents of neurodiverse children find it more difficult to be authoritative.[9] They are more likely to become permissive or authoritarian (Woolfson & Grant, 2006).

What Is the Take-Home Message?

Permissive parenting is not the best way to parent our children. Instead, try to be authoritative as much as you can. You are already a warm and caring parent. Focus on providing more guidance and structure to your child. At REC Parenting we are here to help with a wealth of resources and one-to-one support.

Finally, remember that the perfect parent doesn’t exist! We need to try to get it right as often as we can.

Sources +

[1] Kuppens, S., Ceulemans, E. Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. J Child Fam Stud 28, 168–181 (2019). 

[2] Wischerth, G. A., Mulvaney, M. K., Brackett, M. A., & Perkins, D. (2016). The Adverse Influence of Permissive Parenting on Personal Growth and the Mediating Role of Emotional Intelligence. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 177(5), 185–189. 

[3] Rose, J., Roman, N., Mwaba, K., & Ismail, K. (2018). The relationship between parenting and internalizing behaviours of children: A systematic review. Early Child Development and Care, 188(10), 1468-1486.

[4] Wischerth, G. A., Mulvaney, M. K., Brackett, M. A., & Perkins, D. (2016). The Adverse Influence of Permissive Parenting on Personal Growth and the Mediating Role of Emotional Intelligence. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 177(5), 185–189. 

[5] Hinnant, J.B., Erath, S.A., Tu, K.M. et al. Permissive Parenting, Deviant Peer Affiliations, and Delinquent Behavior in Adolescence: the Moderating Role of Sympathetic Nervous System Reactivity. J Abnorm Child Psychol 44, 1071–1081 (2016). 

[6] Aznar, A., Sowden, P., Bayless, S., Ross, K., Warhurst, A., & Pachi, D. (2021). Home-schooling during COVID-19 lockdown: Effects of coping style, home space, and everyday creativity on stress and home-schooling outcomes. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 10(4), 294–312. 

[7] Garcia, F., & Gracia, E. (2009). Is always authoritative the optimum parenting style? Evidence from Spanish families. Adolescence, 44(173), 101-131. 

[8] Neece, C.L., Chan, N. (2017). The Stress of Parenting Children with Developmental Disabilities. In: Deater-Deckard, K., Panneton, R. (eds) Parental Stress and Early Child Development. Springer, Cham. 

[9] Woolfson, L., & Grant, E. (2006). Authoritative parenting and parental stress in parents of pre‐school and older children with developmental disabilities. Child: care, health and development, 32(2), 177-184. 

Dr. Ana Aznar

About Ana

Dr. Ana Aznar is the founder of REC Parenting. She is a psychologist with a passion to support… Read more

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