Permissive Parenting: Examples and Impacts of a Hands-Off Style

Boy and Dog in Toy Racing Car

Permissive parenting, also known as indulgent parenting, occurs when caring, loving and involved parents exert very little control over their kids. Learning the characteristics of permissive parenting, and the pros and cons of being a permissive parent, can help you understand what type of mom or dad you'd like to be, and how your parenting style affects your kids. Additionally, it can be helpful to know how to alter your parenting strategy to bring more structure and discipline into your child's life.

Results of Permissive Parenting

Being loving, responsive and involved are certainly good parental attributes. However, giving your child a lot of freedom that is not appropriate for their developmental level, can result in a lack of structure in their life. This can lead to:

  • Insufficient discipline
  • Not enough monitoring of the child's actions
  • Lack of limits on activities
  • Allowance of inappropriate behavior
  • Tolerance of impulsive behavior
  • No consistency in rule enforcement

Examples of Permissive Parenting

Here are examples of permissive parenting behaviors:

Parents Overly Indulge Their Child

Parents who utilize permissive parenting very rarely tell their child "no" when the child wants something. For instance, the parent will buy the child candy or a toy at the grocery store every time they ask for something. Another example might be, if the family is celebrating an adult relative's birthday, the parent allows their child to pick the type of birthday cake they'd like, rather than letting the person whose birthday it is choose what cake they'd actually like to eat.

Kids are Not Taught Boundaries

Parents who employ permissive parenting typically don't teach their child boundaries between themselves and others very effectively. For example, they might tolerate it if their child takes food off of someone else's plate without asking first, or if the child snatches a toy out of another child's hand. Furthermore, the parents probably won't use such scenarios as teaching moments to instill proper manners. They are likely to not respond to the situation, rather than teaching the child to apologize and correcting their behavior.

Children Lack Appropriate Communication Skills

Those with a more permissive parenting style tend to tolerate inappropriate behavior from children, such as speaking loudly in a restaurant (instead of using "indoor voices") or speaking disrespectfully to elders. Another example is, parents might give their child something after the child points to the item, rather than first requiring the child to use their words. Yet another example is not reminding the child to say "thank you" when they are gifted something.

Parents Rarely Provide Structure or Teach Responsibility

With a permissive parenting style, parents tend to neglect using disciplinary structure, or do not follow it consistently. For example, they might tell their child they can watch TV on their tablet for 15 minutes however, they do not confiscate the tablet after the 15 minutes have passed. Permissive parents may not give their child chores or responsibilities in the home. They are likely to do things for their child that their child is capable of doing on their own, such as cleaning their room or picking up after themselves.

Pros of Permissive Parenting

All parenting styles have pros and cons. Certainly being caring, responsive and involved can lead to a positive and loving relationship with your child. To some extent and in some contexts, lack of structure could be beneficial as well. Some research identifies benefits of permissive parenting such as:

At the same time, even though it may make your life easier in the short-term, permissive parenting is not required to reap the above-mentioned benefits. Moreover, these benefits do not outweigh the cons of permissive parenting.

Cons of Permissive Parenting

Given that permissive parenting involves little structure and discipline, there can be downsides for the child in the long-term. As a result of this hands-off parenting style, a child is more likely to have:

  • An inability to learn logical consequences
  • Lack of social skills and understanding of boundaries
  • Propensity for conflict
  • Lack of ability to regulate their emotions and behavior
  • The need for immediate gratification
  • The expectation that they can get whatever they want at others' expense
  • Poor academic performance
  • Sleep problems, particularly when permissive parents are distressed
Little girl begs her mom to buy a toy

Multicultural Considerations Regarding Permissive Parenting

Parenting styles can be different from culture to culture; permissive parenting may be accepted to some extent in some cultures. Research has been conducted on parenting styles and their outcomes in various regions of the world, as well as between different ethnic groups in the U.S. The research thus far has actually shown that across the globe and across different cultural groups in the U.S., authoritative parenting tended to yield the most positive outcomes for children. Authoritative parenting means parents are involved in the child's life, are very warm, loving and responsive, and also exert control. Research has also shown that authoritative parenting leads to healthy attachment.

Parents are Their Child's First Teacher

Some people may have the view that because "they are just a child," a kid should be able to get away with things that would be clearly inappropriate for adults. However, even very young children are capable of learning social and life skills if taught in a way that is appropriate for their developmental level. Moreover, because parents are the first people in a child's life, the parent-child relationship dynamic that is established during childhood serves as a blueprint for the child's other relationships throughout their life.

Permissive Parenting During Difficult Transitions

You might have found that if your family has gone through a difficult transition such as divorce or moving to a different state, that you had used permissive parenting as a way to make the transition easier for your child. It can seem logical that if a child is struggling to adjust to a new school or going back and forth between living with you and living with your ex-spouse, that relaxing rules or giving into their desires will help with that transition.

However, even during challenging transitions, children are still capable of following structure and routines. In fact, doing so can actually make the transition easier for them, because some consistency has been maintained in their daily lives. What kids really need to get through difficult transitions is to express their feelings to parents and utilize healthy coping strategies.

Taking Steps Toward Becoming More Authoritative

The good news is, even with older children, there are things you can do to move away from permissive parenting and toward authoritative parenting. Some steps you can use to move away from permissive parenting to an authoritative style include:

  • Determine the structure, rules and consequences you want for your child and your household.
  • Reach an agreement with your spouse, partner or other adults who live in your household on the rules, and the consequences for breaking rules. It is important that you are all on the same page and consistent with rule enforcement.
  • Verbally acknowledge to your child that you have been using permissive parenting and you plan to change to something better. For example, "Remember how earlier today I said you could be on your iPad for 15 minutes but you ended up being on it for 2 hours? Well, I should have kept my word and stopped you after 15 minutes."
  • Tell your child that for the family's benefit, you are starting to establish rules and consequences if they don't follow them. For example, "Every Saturday morning from now on, you are to place your dirty clothes in the hamper. If something is not in the hamper when I take it downstairs Saturday afternoon to do the laundry, it won't get washed that week."
  • Be consistent with enforcing consequences. For example, create a chore chart that shows a different chores that your child is to complete each day. Set the rule that only after the day's chores have been completed can the child have play time.
  • Seek counseling or a parenting class if you feel you need help.
Father and daughter looking at chores chart

A Work in Progress

Parenting is not easy; and sometimes it's not intuitive. The best parenting strategies for you can depend on factors such your child's age, developmental level and their unique personality characteristics. That is why it is common and normal for parents to get help with parenting and to change their strategies as needed. Parenting is a work in progress and a constant evolution into becoming the best mom or dad for your kids.

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Permissive Parenting: Examples and Impacts of a Hands-Off Style