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What is Permissive Parenting? 

By Emma Davies


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Ever wondered what type of parent you are? Are you super strict or maybe a little more indulgent of your children’s wants and needs? Or perhaps you are reading this because you are wondering what type of parent your own parents were when raising you. If you want to know more about the permissive parenting style, we have everything you need to know and more.

Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting focuses on parents being warm and nurturing, while also rejecting the idea that they need to keep their children under control. Permissive parents rarely enforce rules and there are no consequences. Like all styles of parenting, the permissive style has many pros and cons. The permissive parenting style can also be known as indulgent parenting.

Permissive Parenting Definition

There are four parenting styles used by psychologists to categorize the different ways parents raise their children. Diana Baumrind carried out research in the 1960s, which was later studied further in the 1980s to determine the four parenting styles:

This research was used to define permissive parenting and the other three styles, giving phycologists a clear way to categorize different child rearing methods. When defining permissive or indulgent parents, Baurmind states, ” {permissive parents} are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation”. This is the permissive parenting psychology definition.

Characteristics of The Indulgent Parenting Style

Permissive or indulgent parents are loving and warm towards their children but don’t like to set strict rules or make demands. When picturing a permissive parent, imagine a mom or dad who describes their children as their best friend, they avoid consequences and rules at all costs and believe their children should be involved in major decisions, regardless of their emotional immaturity.

The following traits are common among permissive parents:

  • Value the freedom of their children.
  • Don’t believe children should be controlled.
  • Set little to no rules.
  • Don’t enforce consequences.
  • Are more like a friend than a parent.
  • Unlikely to have a set daily routine or stick to a schedule.
  • If rules are in place, they are inconsistent.
  • Have a warm and nurturing relationship with their children.
  • Bribery is often used to enforce appropriate behavior.

On the surface, indulgent parenting doesn’t sound too bad. After all, kids love to be free and to experience little to no consequences for their bad behavior. Permissive parents can be accused of letting their kids ‘get away with murder’ or turning a blind eye to behavior that may require some form of consequence.

If you have ever seen a mom ignore their child’s bad behavior in the playpark or seen a Dad in the grocery store running his shopping list past his child for their opinion, you would be safe to assume that they subscribe to an indulgent parenting style. But they could also be a parent who is desperately trying to get through the day without having to deal with yet another tantrum.

Examples of Permissive Parents

Are you wondering if you are a permissive parent? Or are you trying to identify which category your own mom and dad fit into? To help you understand a bit more about permissive parenting, here are a few examples:

  • A child is behaving badly and should be pulled up about their behavior but their parent is doing nothing about it. Instead of enforcing consequences, the permissive parents simply tolerate their child’s bad behavior.
  • The family home has no rules for the children. They are allowed to do whatever they want without any consequences or responsibility.
  • Saying one thing but doing another. An indulgent parent may tell their child that they can only play video games once their homework is done. Instead of sticking to this rule, the parent lets their child play before their work is complete.
  • Children are given treats and rewards to keep them happy or stop them from displaying uncomfortable emotions and behaviors. For example, a child may be crying because they want to watch their favorite TV show but it is time to go out. Instead of letting their child experience their upset, indulgent parents will try to stop it by giving them a treat.

It would not be out of character for a permissive parent to change their mind and let their child watch their show before going out, even though they already said no.

Effects of Permissive Parenting

From a child’s perspective, permissive parenting may seem like a dream come true – No rules and no consequences. They even have a say in making those big family decisions even when they don’t fully understand the consequences of those choices. Mom and Dad are laid back and there is no strict routine. The indulgent parenting style may be a child’s ideal life, but a childhood with few rules and no consequences can mean big problems ahead for those children as they grow up.

Let’s take a closer look at both the pros and cons of permissive parenting on the kiddos.

Positive Effects

  • Increased creativity – Without strict rules in place, children have the freedom to explore and learn to do things their own way. A less rigid family environment can provide children with the space and freedom they need to fully explore their imagination and tap into their creative side.
  • Freedom of expression – Permissive parents tend not to discipline their children, regardless of their behavior. When given the space to express themselves without fear of consequences, children will feel safe to voice their thoughts with confidence.
  • Unconditional love – Children with permissive parents often grow up feeling important and loved unconditionally. Indulgent parents are warm and nurturing and often see their children as their best friends, doing all they can to keep them happy.

Negative Effects

So far, permissive parenting doesn’t sound so bad, right? While this parenting style can build strong bonds between parents and their young children, often having a friendship-like relationship with few boundaries and rules can have negative impacts on children as they enter adulthood.

  • Rebellious behavior – Children who grow up with minimal rules in the family home are raised to do things their own way. With little respect for rules, children of permissive parents can grow into people who think the rules don’t apply to them and may exhibit rebellious behaviors. Think of the guy at work who doesn’t care about office etiquette or is late to meetings without an apology – there’s a chance he grew up in a family with few limits or consequences.
  • Increased anxiety – A house with no rules may sound like a child’s idea of heaven on earth, but children need structure and routine to feel safe. Studies have shown that children raised by indulgent parents are at an increased risk of developing anxiety or depression as they grow up. When a permissive parent tries to shut down their child’s uncomfortable feelings with bribery, children do not learn how to deal with these feelings, and some children will simply withdraw and learn to keep their feelings to themselves.
  • Risky behavior – If a child has been allowed to run the show when they are little, they may grow up with no sense of danger. Boundaries are needed to keep children safe and when they grow up in a house with no limits on their behavior, they can be vulnerable to developing a risky temperament as adults. An example of this is a childhood free from rules and discipline can put children at risk of substance abuse later in life.
  • Low achievement in many aspects of life – Children raised by permissive parents can struggle in several areas of adult life. Never learning to deal with their feelings in childhood can lead to difficulties with self regulation and understanding the emotions of others. Also, indulgent parenting can lead to poor grades at school as well as time management and performance issues at work. With no expectation or guidance from their parents, children raised in this manner can grow up to have poor problem-solving skills, an overly confident attitude, and difficulty limiting unhealthy habits.

Do Permissive Parents Need to Change?

Like every parenting style categorized by psychologists, permissive parenting is not completely good or bad, there are aspects that are amazing for children to experience. Indulgent parents are often warm and extremely loving, without realizing the negative impact their parenting methods may be having. Every parenting style has its pros and cons and there are steps permissive parents can take to better prepare their children for the realities of adult life.

Steps permissive parents can take to change their parenting style for the better include:

  • Rewarding good behavior. This is an effective way to encourage children to behave appropriately without the need for discipline. Positive reinforcement is more likely to align with a permissive parent’s approach to child rearing.
  • Set loose household rules. As we have established, a childhood with no rules is not as good as it sounds. Growing up without limits can lead to a whole host of problems for children as they grow and enter the workforce and form relationships with others. Permissive parents can set a few household rules, making it clear why these rules need to be followed, and help their children by leading by example.
  • Be loving and consistent. Failing to follow through on consequences or changing your mind and giving in to your child will not set your child up well for conflict and not being able to get their own way later in life. Indulgent parents can be warm and nurturing, while also being consistent and holding firm to what they have said. Yes, even when their child is trying to make them change their mind and driving you crazy.

Permissive Parental Style or Not

It is important to remember that every parenting style has its pros and cons and no one style works without aspects from other styles. There is no perfect way to raise a child and every parent is dealing with their own struggles even if they appear to have all their ducks in a row. Every family is different and what works for one child is highly unlikely to work for another even when they are from the same family.

Permissive parents are extremely loving, but their buddy-like relationship with their children can lead to problems further down the line. Parental indulgence isn’t the worst thing and every parent is guilty of a little indulgence, but it is important to be mindful of both the positive and negative effects this parenting style can have on children when used as the sole parenting style as they grow up.

About Emma Davies

Emma Davies is a freelance writer that specializes parenting and animal topics. With over 20 years experience as a parent there are very few topics that faze her.

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