- Permissive parents focus on allowing their kids to do what they want, while neglecting boundaries and expectations.
- Although these parents are loving, this approach can lead to adults who are not well-adjusted to the real world.
- If you're a permissive parent, here are steps to start transitioning to a more balanced parenting style.
- Sign up for our new parenting newsletter Insider Parenting here.
It's tempting to want your kids to have a positive view of you, and it feels good to give them a treat every now and then. But while permissive, fun experiences might put a smile on your kids' faces temporarily, having boundaries, expectations, and consequences is what helps children grow into well-functioning adults.
In fact, experts say that being a permissive parent — one who allows kids to do what they want most of the time, with few boundaries or consequences — can actually harm children in the long run.
"It is important to 'permit' your child to make choices, chart their own paths, and learn from their mistakes," said Stephen Glicksman, a developmental psychologist at Makor Disability Services and Adjunct Associate Professor at Yeshiva University. "But permissive parents put their children in charge of their own growth, without any secure base to launch from or return to when they need support."
Here's what you should know about this parenting style, and why you may want to choose a different approach.
What is permissive parenting?
Permissive parents, on the surface, have a good relationship with their kids. Children are allowed to do what they want, and the parent often follows the child's lead. Permissive parents are warm and loving, and they reject the idea of being in charge of their children, according to the Michigan State University Extension.
Permissive parenting might seem rooted in love and understanding, but Glicksman said that's not always the case.
"All parents want what's best for their children, but I think oftentimes people choose a permissive parenting style because they are afraid — afraid of their children not being happy or afraid of their children not being their 'friend,'" he said.
Permissive parents might let their children choose their own bedtime or snack freely, while not requiring manners or respect. Often this is well-intentioned, but it doesn't help kids.
"What permissive parents don't realize is that parents are not necessarily supposed to be 'friends' with their kids, and that having parents who express their love by respecting their children's preferences and opinions but also clearly communicating and setting boundaries often makes for happier children in the long run," Glicksman said.
The consequences of permissive parenting
Having parents that are overly permissive can make it difficult for children to adjust to the expectations and boundaries that they'll encounter in the world, as students, workers, and in relationships.
"Research suggests that children of permissive parents may report being happier and more positive as children, they are more likely to be dependent, moody, and lack social skills as they age," said Glicksman. "It is as if, by being given so much freedom as children, they learned that their childhood personalities were sufficient and end up being childish adults."
How to ditch permissive parenting
Glicksman says that it's never too late to start establishing boundaries and expectations with your children. He recommends moving toward a more authoritative parenting style, which experts agree is generally best for kids in the long run.
"Don't panic," he said. "Even though the research suggests that some parenting styles are better than others, children are very hard to break."
If you're trying to become a less permissive parent, start by saying both yes and no more often, and explaining your reasoning for each one to your child.
"The goal is to say 'yes' often enough that your children learn that when you say 'no,' it's probably for a good reason," Glicksman said.
Here's how you can get started establishing expectations and boundaries for your kids:
- Make a list of household expectations and chores, depending on the age of your child
- Have your child earn activities like screen time by doing something positive to contribute to the home, like washing dishes.
- Begin saying no and sticking to it.
The adjustment can be tough for kids who have never had boundaries, Glicksman said. They're likely to push back, but if you're able to stick with this new approach to parenting, it will be better for both of you in the long run.
"Parenting is playing the long game," Glicksman said. "Dealing with disappointment or delayed gratification, and learning how to work for what you want are important experiences to give your children, even if it is more challenging to them, and you, in the moment."
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