Permissive Parenting: What It Is and Its Effects

Updated November 4, 2021
kids jumping on couch at home

Permissive parenting is one of the four major parenting styles identified by clinical psychologist Diana Baumrind in the late 1960s. Permissive parents tend to view their children as equals, and they don't place structure and discipline at the center of their parenting approach. While permissive parenting, also called indulgent parenting, isn't right or wrong, it is crucial that caretakers understand the impact that certain parenting styles have on kids.

What Is Permissive Parenting?

To some degree, all parents primarily gravitate toward one of these four primary parenting styles:

  • Authoritarian
  • Authoritative
  • Permissive
  • Uninvolved

By definition, permissive parenting is characterized by kind and loving parental qualities combined with a lack of structure, consistency, and limits. Permissive parents offer little or no discipline when their children act in a manner that would typically warrant a consequence; and they rarely assert themselves as role models or authoritative figures in their children's lives. Permissive parents don't like to see their children upset; and they often have difficulty telling their kids no.

Characteristics of a Permissive Parent

Common characteristics of a permissive parent include:

  • Loving and nurturing nature
  • Not rule-oriented
  • Focuses on freedom over responsibility
  • Non-confrontational
  • Use bribery or manipulation to get the desired outcome from their children
  • Indulgent and rarely say no to their kids
  • Offer little routine and structure in children's lives
  • Believe in natural consequences, not imposed ones

Examples of Permissive Parenting

These examples of permissive parenting highlight common scenarios in parenting, and how a permissive parent might respond to the given situation.

family eating cupcakes

1. A child begs and cries for candy or sugary treats at 8 a.m. A permissive parent will often hand over the sweets, compared to an authoritative parent who would say no to the request, because 8 a.m. is not typically a time to eat cupcakes.

2. A child decides not to wake up in time to go to school because they want to sleep all day. A permissive parent would allow this and not intervene, even though they wish their child would make better choices.

3. In a permissive parenting household, kids are allowed to eat dinner in their rooms watching television and have no expectation of engaging with family or even bringing the dishes back to the kitchen. An authoritative parent would have clear expectations for family mealtime, and if the expectations were not followed, a clear and expected consequence would follow.

4. A permissive parent would allow the child to make a major life decision, regardless of its impact on their person, their well-being, or their future. An authoritative parent would allow children some degree of participating in major life decisions, guide choices and offer rationale, but ultimately will be the one deciding on behalf of their child.

5. A teenager has a math test tomorrow, and a parent suggests they study for it. The teen says no and turns on a movie instead. A permissive parent might allow them to watch the movie instead of preparing for their exam.

Permissive Parenting vs. Free-Range Parenting

Another parenting style that has recently been in the spotlight is referred to as free-range parenting. Permissive parenting and free-range parenting are similar, but they are not the same.

The primary differences between the two styles are how parents perceive their children's capabilities, and what their views on rule enforcement are. Free-range parents are not rule-free. They teach specific rules to children so that they can utilize them in the world to stay safe while unsupervised. Permissive parents tend to be more rule-free.

Example of free-range parenting: Parents teach their children about crossing the road and how to utilize a crosswalk sign. They practice the skill to walk to the park themselves and remain safe.

Example of permissive parenting: Parents do not enforce rules for getting to the park. If kids break road safety rules, they often will not redirect or address the broken rules.

The Effects of Permissive Parenting on Children

Every parenting style comes with some positive aspects as well as some less appealing effects. Permissive parenting, like other styles, is packed with both pros and cons.

The Pros to Permissive Parenting

There are some aspects of the permissive parenting style that parents find beneficial to children.

  • Permissive parenting may foster self-assurance in children as they grow up thinking everything they do is wonderful and grand.
  • Freedom to explore enhances their confidence to take on new challenges and try new things.
  • Due to the lack of limits permissive parents impose on kids, children can foster their creativity without ever feeling stifled.
  • Children of permissive parents likely feel loved and nurtured, as this is a primary characteristic of parents who adopt this parenting style.
  • Children may feel heard and understood by their parent, who likely ask their input on most issues.
  • Children experience less conflict in their home, because permissive parents tend to be non-confrontational.
  • There's no negative impact on the child's cognitive development.
  • Kids learn some life skills through natural consequences of their behavior.
  • Research shows increased physical activity in 10-11 year-olds.

The Cons to Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting also has some notable cons that affect children.

  • Kids raised by permissive parents can have higher rates of stress and tend to be less mentally healthy, according to a 2016 study.
  • Permissive parenting can lead to an increased rate of childhood obesity.
  • The rate of teenage drinking tends to be higher when kids grow up in a permissive parenting household.
  • Children have higher rates of rebellion outside of the home.
  • Kids who are raised in permissive parenting settings sometimes lack self-discipline and social skills, such as sharing.
  • Because of a lack of parental expectation and motivation, kids underachieve academically.
  • Children of permissive parents can exhibit higher levels of physical aggression.

How to Turn Permissive Parenting Around

If you feel your parenting style is too permissive, there are steps you can take toward becoming an authoritative parent.

Father And Son Concentrating While Playing Video Games Together

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are an essential aspect of any relationship, including the parent-child relationship. Think about a few fundamental family rules to work into your family structure. Make sure all family members understand these boundaries in full, and once boundaries are set, work to maintain them. Remember, children are professional boundary pushers. They will try to shake things up in this arena. But you are the parent, and you can stick to the boundaries that you create for your family.

Example of setting a boundary: You create a firm 8 p.m. bedtime. Kids whine and cry to stay up later. You give them a warning to stop. They don't heed the warning, so you give them a consequence that has been predetermined and laid out clearly.

Example of a permissive parent not following a boundary: You do not have a clear bedtime in place. Kids are whiny and overly tired. When you try to put them to bed, they have a tantrum, and you allow them to continue to stay up so you can avoid the unpleasant situation.

Stay the Course

All parents give in to their kids from time to time, and there is no need to feel guilty or ashamed if sometimes you bend a rule or allow your child's behavior to spiral out of control. You are human, after all! That said, try to stay the course when it comes to enforcing consistency in the home. Clear expectations and consequences should be defined. When kids throw a tantrum, remain calm and follow through on your route of consequence. When kids test boundaries you have set, give a warning, remind them of the consequence of their behavior and stay the course.

On the flip side, when kids exhibit a desired behavior, catch them being good and reward the behavior. This will motivate them to engage in further positive behavior, in hopes of receiving more rewards and praise.

Example: You ask your child to hang their backpack and coat up after school. They comply. Immediately respond by giving them verbal praise or a predetermined tangible reward.

Learn to Create and Maintain Routine

If you have become too permissive in your parenting style, there is a chance that your routines have fallen to the wayside. You can always get family routines back on track. It might not be easy; kids may buck up against you when you reinstate them, but remember that routines are essential to children. They establish a sense of consistency and expectation, which in turn fosters security and safety. Kids need some degree of structure and routine to thrive.

What Does Your Parenting Style Say About You?

While you might gravitate toward one parenting style over another, remember that your style doesn't define you. If you are a permissive parent, you can change your ways by instilling new routines, expectations, and boundaries. All parents have room for introspection and improvement. Examine your parenting style and decide if it helps you achieve what you want to accomplish in your child-rearing practices.

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