Is Positive Parenting Too Permissive?

How to Achieve Attunement and Connection While Still Setting Limits

As a parent, you’ve likely heard about many different parenting approaches and strategies. As a result, you’ve also probably found yourself attempting to navigate the in’s and out’s of the various buzzwords and content you see on the news and social media. You might be asking yourself things like: Is giving a time out okay? How much is too much validation? And perhaps one of the most common questions we hear in our practice: is positive parenting too permissive? In the journey of parenthood, there’s no one-size-fits-all manual. Each child is unique, and so are the challenges and joys that come with raising them. Amidst the chaos and the cuddles, however, the positive parenting approach stands out for its profound impact. Today, we’ll detail positive parenting’s benefits and its differences from permissive parenting.

adult and two children sitting on floor playing with wooden blocks

What is Positive Parenting?

First, let’s start by providing an overview of positive parenting, which is also known as gentle parenting or responsive parenting. Positive parenting isn’t about being perfect or always having the right answers. It’s about creating connections, setting boundaries with empathy, and guiding children with love and respect.

Here are some key principles that define this parenting approach:

  1. Building Strong Relationships: At the heart of positive parenting is the bond between parent and child. Connecting with your child, and listening without judgment builds trust and open communication. Whether it’s through shared activities, earnest conversations, or simply being present, nurturing this relationship is so beneficial.
  2. Encouraging Positive Behavior: Instead of focusing solely on discipline when children behave in ways that are not aligned with the boundaries parents have set, positive parenting focuses on the importance of reinforcing positive behavior. Encouragement and validation are powerful tools for building confidence and self-esteem. By acknowledging and celebrating even small achievements, parents can inspire and support their children.
  3. Setting Clear Boundaries: Boundaries are essential for children to feel safe and secure. Positive parenting involves setting clear, age-appropriate limits while explaining the reasons behind them. Parents can use logical consequences to help children learn from their actions, rather than punishments.
  4. Modeling Respectful Behavior: Children learn by example, and parents have the potential to be their most influential role models. By demonstrating kindness, empathy, and respect in their interactions with others, parents teach valuable lessons about compassion and understanding. Treating children with dignity and acknowledging their feelings validates their experiences and fosters mutual respect.
  5. Fostering Independence: Positive parenting encourages children to develop autonomy and problem-solving skills from a young age. By offering guidance and support rather than micromanaging, parents empower their children to make decisions and learn from the outcomes. Encouraging independence nurtures confidence and resilience, qualities that will serve them well throughout life.
  6. Practicing Positive Communication: Effective communication is essential for healthy relationships. Positive parenting involves active listening, validating children’s emotions, and using constructive feedback to resolve conflicts in a harmonious way. Teaching assertive expression and empathy equips children with vital social skills.
  7. Cultivating Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: Understanding and managing emotions are crucial life skills that positively impact all aspects of a child’s development. Positive parenting emphasizes empathy and teaches children to recognize and regulate their feelings in healthy ways. By validating their emotions and teaching them to consider others’ perspectives, parents foster empathy and emotional intelligence.
a woman and a child facing each other smiling in a kitchen

How is Positive Parenting Different from Permissive Parenting?

Permissive parenting, on the other hand, takes a more laid-back approach. It is characterized by warmth and support but lacking in structure and boundaries. While parents who take a permissive parenting approach often have good intentions, this parenting style can inadvertently lead to challenges in a child’s development.

Here are some key features of permissive parenting:

  1. Undefined Boundaries: Permissive parenting tends to have loose or unclear boundaries, providing children freedom without guidance. While this approach may initially feel liberating to children, it can lead to confusion and insecurity in the long term.
  2. Avoidance of Conflict: Permissive parents may shy away from conflict or confrontation, opting to avoid setting limits in order to maintain peace within the family. For example, they may tell their child, “it’s time to leave the park,” but when the child starts whining, they’ll let her stay, despite the impact it may have on the family’s schedule or other activities. Unfortunately, this avoidance of conflict can hinder a child’s ability to learn essential life skills such as self-regulation and problem-solving.
  3. Giving In: With permissive parenting, there’s a tendency to cater to children’s desires without fully considering the consequences. Whether it’s regarding material possessions, screen time, or potentially unhealthy habits, not helping your child learn how to set limits on their own can hinder their ability to develop self-discipline, resilience, and stress tolerance.
  4. Lack of Accountability: In permissive households, accountability may take a back seat, with parents hesitant to hold their children responsible for their actions or behaviors. Without clear expectations or consequences, children may struggle to understand the impact of their choices on themselves and others.

All that said, parents who practice a permissive parenting style do tend to be sensitive and attuned to their child’s emotions, which is so important for development. The truth is, though, that limit setting and structure play key roles in an optimal parent-child relationship. Furthermore, boundaries and consequences are essential for social and emotional development. A consistent pattern of permissive parenting is linked to some less-than-ideal outcomes in later childhood and beyond. 

a woman with hand out towards child sitting on rocky ground

How to Set Limits and Still Validate Your Child’s Emotions

It’s possible to validate our children’s emotions without supporting any specific problematic behavior. In fact, validation is an important part of addressing disruptive behaviors. This means that we can be responsive and attuned while also setting limits. Consider the park example from earlier. When the child whines about not wanting to leave, a parent practicing positive parenting may say something like, “I understand how fun it is to play at the park, and it is still time to leave. I’m going to help you by putting your shoes on.” Statements like these accomplish the important validation piece without giving up control. It’s important to remember that kids actually feel safest when their parents are in control. Furthermore, positive parenting often involves some collaborative problem solving with the child. For example, while you have made the decision as a parent that it is time to leave the park, you can encourage your child to think about activities he can do at home instead. Positive parenting takes the approach that parent and child are a team working together towards solutions.

How to Respond to Tantrums with a Positive Parenting Approach

When we set boundaries for our children, they may become upset or tantrum. That is okay. It is possible to hold space for our child’s feelings while sticking to the limit we have set. It can help to view these moments as opportunities for co-regulation. Try encouraging your child to take a few deep breaths, or squeeze her fists and then release. As hard as it may be, the more you can stay calm and collected, the quicker your child will be able to do the same. 

Parents often ask how punishment and consequence fit into positive parenting. This may come as a surprise, but often, we actually don’t need to implement a specific consequence or punishment after we set a limit. Consider again the park example. If your child kicks and screams while you escort her out of the park, that doesn’t actually need to be punished. This emotional response is their prerogative as a child, just as setting limits is yours as a parent. Reacting negatively not only escalates emotions further, but it also may teach children that some feelings are not okay, which is something we want to avoid. Consider instead sending the message that you are here for them regardless of what they are feeling, and that you will support them through the storm of their emotions. When your child calms down (and they will), you can then take a moment to re-establish safety and connection. 

Is Positive Parenting More Effective than Other Strategies?

Many parents tend to inadvertently rely on strategies that were used on them in their childhood. More often than not, this means using a primarily behavioral approach to discipline: rewards, punishment, and time outs. These strategies aren’t necessarily bad, and can be quite effective in the short term. 

However, new research shows us that some of these strategies aren’t as successful when considered in the long term. Science can help us understand what actually happens inside of our children’s brains when we use certain behavior modification techniques. Children may experience activation of stress centers and the fight-or-flight response when a strictly behavioral approach is taken in parenting. When children are flooded with stress hormones and feelings of uncertainty, they don’t learn as well. Some parenting styles are less effective long-term due to physiological and biological reasons. The same research shows us the benefits of a positive parenting approach. For example, connection and attunement create the best conditions for change and learning. With that in mind, we can make this connection: the more connection and attunement we strive for with our children, the better we position them to actually learn and enact certain behaviors, as well as avoid others.

a mother holding a child on a beach

How Can I Implement Positive Parenting Techniques? 

The goal of positive parenting is to provide warmth and attunement while still setting limits. If you are new to positive parenting, or still trying to figure out if it feels right for you and your family, try one of the following strategies:

  • Practice addressing less-than-ideal behaviors in a calm and firm way. You can do this by using some validation (which usually starts off like “I understand you are feeling…” before implementing the boundary.
  • Setting boundaries and creating structure helps your child learn and feel safe, even if it’s challenging. Remember too that it is okay for your child to be upset temporarily. The better that we as parents can tolerate some temporary distress from our children, the smoother it will be to set and enforce necessary boundaries.
  • If the validation and attunement piece feels like an unnecessary part of discipline, remember that research shows us that connection is a key component of teaching and limit setting. Kids learn best when they feel safe and secure. 

If you have more questions about positive parenting, or want to try to implement this approach but don’t know where to start, please click here for a free consultation call. Our clinicians at Upshur Bren Psychology Group have extensive experience working with parents to find a style and approach that works best for the unique needs of your family.

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