Permissive parenting: what is a permissive parent and am I one?

Read here to find out if you are adopting a permissive parenting style and the effect it might have on your relationship with your child.

permissive parenting

Permissive parents often view themselves as more of a friend to their child than a parent. We discuss the pros and cons of this parenting style, and how it might affect your relationship.

Permissive parenting is a style of parenting where parents typically want to be viewed by their kids as a 'buddy' rather than a parent. While permissive parents are often described as being very nurturing and loving, this controversial style of parenting is defined for having no rules. Permissive parenting has come under fire in recent years for being 'too lenient.' It' not unlike gentle parenting, and some parents have come out to say why they regret gentle parenting.

Take a look through our definition of permissive parenting, including examples of it in action, to learn more about the effect this style of parenting can have on children.

What is permissive parenting?

Permissive parenting, otherwise known as ‘indulgent’ or ‘lenient parenting’, is a style of parenting known for its extremely relaxed nature.

Parenting expert and director of Parent 4 Success, Elizabeth O’Shea told GoodtoKnow that permissive parenting is typically: 'A parenting style that involves allowing children to do things without having very many rules and regulations put in place.'

She added: 'Permissive parents tend to be lovely, thoughtful, kind parents but they haven’t learned to set boundaries that enable them to effectively discipline their child.'

This parenting style tends to be the total opposite of ‘helicopter parenting.’ Instead of hovering over their children’s every move, permissive parents are contrastingly very lax and rarely enforce any type of rules or structure.

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Characteristics of permissive parenting:

Typical characteristics of permissive parents include:

  • Having little to no rules or standards of behaviour
  • When there are rules, applying them very inconsistently
  • Being heavily nurturing and loving towards their children
  • Often seeming more like a friend than a parent
  • Potentially using bribery by way of toys, gifts and good as a means to get their child to behave well
  • Putting more weight on their child’s freedom rather than responsibility
  • Giving their child the ability to have influence over major decisions
  • Neglecting to enforce any type of consequences for wrong-doing

Examples of permissive parenting:

  • Here are some specific examples of permissive parenting:
  1.  Not being able to say no because they don’t want to upset their child. For example, they might be doing a food shop when their child asks for a chocolate bar, despite already having two during the day. Not wanting to upset them, a permissive parent may say something like, ‘Okay, you’ve been good today, so I’ll buy you one.’
  2. Always putting the wants of their child before their own. For example, a permissive parent may never allowing themselves to watch their own TV programmes because they’ve let your child have a monopoly over the television.
  3. Not setting specific timings for play, study and sleep. For example, a permissive parent may let their child stay up late even though they need to get up early the next day for school.
  4. Asking their child to do tasks but at their own convenience. For example, regularly asking their child to put away his or her toys after playing but only if they are is not feeling too tired.

Read more: The benefits of therapeutic parenting and how to try it yourself

Effects of permissive parenting on children:

Researchers have found that permissive parenting can have a negative effect on children’s development, because when parents don’t learn to set limits, their children don’t develop the ability to tolerate frustration or manage themselves.

Typical effects of this style of parenting can result in kids lacking self-discipline, possessing poor social skills, being overly self-involved and demanding, as well as feeling insecure due to lack of guidance.

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Other effects of permissive parenting can result in children developing the following traits:

  • Having no self-control or self-regulation
  • Having difficulty in following rules
  • Exhibiting antisocial behaviour
  • Being rebellious when their demands or challenge
  • Lacking discipline and opposing authority
  • Being irresponsible and unable to take responsibility for their behaviour
  • Becoming selfish and don’t like sharing
  • Lack of boundaries resulting in insecurity

Pros of permissive parenting:

  • Elizabeth O'Shea states: 'The child is generally quite happy because they have a very indulgent life.'
  • The child will feel loved unconditionally, because no matter what they do they know they’ll be loved - even if they behave badly.
  • Children with permissive parents tend to be more creative, as they have more freedom to explore everything and unleash their imaginative side.
  • There is very little conflict within the home as the child tends to call the shots and the parent gives into their demands.
  • Typically the parent and child will have a very close relationship.

Cons of permissive parenting:

  • According to Elizabeth: 'A negative result of permissive parenting can be that the child is prevented from learning normal social norms. Because they have no concept of boundaries, children of permissive parents may struggle at school when asked to meet teachers demands, such as staying still when required or completing homework.'
  • Leaving a child in charge of major decisions, such as what they eat, causes issues for permissive parents as the child lacks the insight to know what foods will and will not be beneficial for their mental and physical development.
  • There’s a risk that children may grow up to be entitled, as they feel that they don’t have to work for anything to achieve praise and success.
  • Children may develop an issue with discipline, which will cause problems later on in life when it comes to education and employment.
  • The child is at risk of never learning to impose limits on his or herself. This could result in an excessive amount of screen-time or unhealthy dietary habits that carry on into adulthood.

What can you do about permissive parenting?

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Elizabeth believes that when it comes to parenting, the bottom line is that 'parents need to be parents'.

Permissive parents feel pressure to be their child’s buddy, but without limits and standards of behaviour being set, their child is at risk of being unable to grow into a selfless, tolerant and driven adult.

Elizabeth suggests that permissive parents take two steps to adopt a more successful parenting approach: 'Firstly, they must look at what limits need to be set. This step involves negotiating rules with your child, and enforcing those rules consistently.' These rules should be centred things such as bedtime, homework, and what they eat.

Secondly, Elizabeth recommends setting boundaries and making sure you follow up on rules. If a child breaks a rule that has been agreed between the both of you, resist the temptation to ignore it and ensure that you adopt a suitable disciplinary action so your child understands that rule-breaking will not be tolerated.

Freelance Lifestyle Writer

Niamh McCollum is a freelance lifestyle writer who has written for Future titles GoodTo and Marie Claire UK, plus the Irish Independent. The Dublin-based journalist specialises in stories 

affecting families - from health updates, to the freshest parenting debates and celebrity announcements.