Permissive Parenting

Karen Frazier
permissive parenting

Permissive parenting styles represent one of four types of parenting that psychologists recognize. Learning your parenting style and making adjustments can help you to make better parenting choices as you relate to your children..

What Is Permissive Parenting?

Those who choose the permissive approach believe that they are in all actuality focusing on love instead of limitations. People who turn out to be permissive parents are often driven by the need for their children's approval, or to be their children'rathers friends. They place few restrictions or demands on their children. Instead, they respond to their children's desires whenever they arise. Permissive parents often "give in" to their children's wishes, hesitating on boundaries as soon as their child protests, gets angry, throws a tantrum, or expresses disapproval in some way.

Permissive parents have good intentions. They believe that by giving in to their child's desires, they are showing them love. Their goal is often to avoid conflict with their children, and their manner with their children is often warm, nurturing and supportive. Despite the good intentions, problems occur when permissive parents fail to set appropriate boundaries for their children.

Characteristics of Permissive Parents

Parents engaging in the permissive parenting style are characterized by certain behaviors. Permissive parents might display the following behaviors:

  • Lack clear, firm boundaries; instead, boundaries are fluid and enforced only in the face of no opposition
  • Express unwillingness to curb their child's creativity or autonomy, even when a behavior is detrimental
  • "Give in" to their child in the face of a temper tantrum or other expression of disapproval
  • Often identify their children as their best friends
  • Have an "anything goes" type of attitude
  • Often seem overwhelmed by their children
  • State desired behaviors as requests, rather than as expectations
  • Ignore misconduct
  • Not express expectations or help a child expect anything of him or herself
  • Not apply discipline or logical consequences, or apply them inconsistently
  • Use any means necessary to obtain compliance, such as bribery
  • Allow children to manipulate them to get what they want, or allow children to play one parent against the other
  • Feel that their children take them for granted
  • Not require their children to do chores
  • Have a peer relationship with their offspring rather than a parent-child relationship

Areas of Permissiveness

According to Dr. Richard O'Connor, there are four areas of permissive parenting: general confused permissiveness, compensatory permissiveness, conditional permissiveness, and indifferent permissiveness.

  • General Confused Permissiveness: In this case, parents lean towards maintaining a friendship with their child, rather than nurturing a parent/child relationship. They truly feel that they should give in to their child's desires and wants whenever possible.
  • Compensatory Permissiveness: In most cases, this type of permissive parenting applies when a parent was deprived either of affection or material items as a child, and that parent doesn't want to see his or her own child have the same experiences.
  • Conditional Permissiveness: Conditional permissiveness refers to the act of giving in to children as long as they meet certain conditions, especially those which will reflect well on the family.
  • Indifferent Permissiveness: For various reasons, such as overtime work hours, illness, or other obligations, some parents give their children undo permission simply because they don't have the time or the inclination to worry about managing their children's time, activities, actions, etc.

Many parents feel that permissive parenting is a positive method of raising their children, while others shake their heads in dismay at the idea of giving in to their children's wants.

Issues Surrounding Permissive Parenting

While permissive parents feel that they are winning their children's love via their leniency, this type of parenting may generate unintended results. Children have a need to know what to expect, and in an overly lenient household where very few boundaries or logical consequences exist, children lack the consistency required in their lives for security. Setting clear boundaries provides consistency that allows children to feel secure. When children function within determined boundaries, they develop a sense of pride, self-esteem, and citizenship within the family. Children in permissive households may also learn behaviors that do not serve them well in adulthood, such as manipulative behavior, lacking a sense of self-discipline, and an inability to cope with authority.


Proponents of permissive parenting are accustomed to arguing their points and singing the praises of this parenting method. While some practice permissiveness simply because they aren't familiar with any other type of parenting, others make an active choice to parent in this manner, and they cite the following reasons for their decision:

  • Focus on love: These parents feel that limiting their children is denying them a strong, emotional, bonding love.
  • Encourage creativity: Some feel that limitations can restrict creativity, and permissive parenting allows a child to become more creative and free-thinking.
  • Relationship: The permissive parent often chooses this method of parenting because they believe that it is important to be a child's friend instead of his parent.
  • Lack of conflict: These parents typically avoid conflict with their children.


While there are many parents who choose to be permissive with their children, there are others who strongly oppose this theory. They cite the following reasons for their belief that permissive parenting can actually harm a child.

  • Loss of control: Opponents feel that parents run the risk of losing control of their children with this type of parenting.
  • No motivation: Others feel that a child who has too much freedom simply drifts from one action to another, without any real focus or direction.
  • Pushing the limit: Some feel that giving a child too much permission will encourage him to push the limits, no matter how small, that have been set by the parent, teachers, or society, eventually eliminating any limitations at all.
  • Power struggles: Once a parent decides to walk away from his or her permissiveness and attempts to make a change, a power struggle with the child may ensue.

What Do Studies Say About Permissive Parenting?

Permissive parenting styles show more conflicting results in research about children's emotional and behavioral states than any other parenting style. One study, for instance, shows that children of permissive parents have very low self-esteem compared to their peers, while another study shows that they have high self-esteem. One reason this may be is because permissiveness closely resembles the "gold standard" in parenting: authoritative parenting. Both types are characterized by warmth, nurturing, and responsiveness to the child's needs and desires; however, permissive parenting is typically characterized by a lack of boundaries, while authoritative parents set clear, firm boundaries. The results of permissive parenting style studies vary a great deal among cultures, suggesting that what is considered permissive in one country may actually fall closer to the lines of authoritative parenting in another region.

Setting Boundaries

Regardless of studies, children gain a sense of security, discipline, and self-worth when parents set understandable and consistent boundaries that lead to logical consequences when breached. By setting clear boundaries, you can help your children grow into self-sufficient and disciplined adults. While your personality type may at first lead you towards being a permissive parent, your children may benefit from you adapting your style into a more authoritative type of parent.

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Permissive Parenting