What Is Permissive Parenting?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Permissive parenting is one of four key parenting styles, or methods by which parents or caregivers interact with and guide their children as they grow up. A parenting style typically covers elements like responsibilities, freedom, limits, and affection. According to extensive research over the years, there are pros and cons to different parenting styles. If you’re considering using permissive parenting for your child, it can be helpful to understand this style and its potential effects on a deeper level.

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Is permissive parenting the right choice for your family?

What are parenting styles?

Developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind first introduced the concept of parenting styles in the early 1970s. Her aim was to categorize the different ways parents socialize their children in order to study the effects of each one. The parenting styles she outlined generally have to do with the emotional climate a parent(s) or caregiver(s) creates in a family dynamic, typically measured by how responsive and demanding they are.

Responsiveness refers to how sensitive and open parents are to their child’s needs. It may take the form of interest in the child’s daily activities, the level of affection shown, and the willingness to respect the child’s perspective. The level of control parents exhibit over their child’s behavior determines how demanding they are. Examples could include how much the parent monitors the child’s activities, how much structure they set up for the child’s daily life, and how much input they allow the child to have in decision-making.

The four main parenting styles

Baumrind originally outlined three parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. The fourth—uninvolved or neglectful parenting—was added by Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin in the 1980s. Certain parental behaviors and typical child responses categorize each style. Parents generally fall into one category, but may also display traits from other styles. 

Authoritarian parenting

Those with an authoritarian style tend to engage in one-way communication with their children, presenting strict rules that the child is expected to obey. Children are given little to no room for negotiations, rules are often not explained, and children are expected to obey authority figures without question. Authoritarian parents often expect children to uphold their high standards without mistakes, and missteps are usually met with punishment. 

Children with authoritarian parents are typically well-behaved because they know the consequences of misbehavior. However, this parenting style can also result in increased aggression, shyness, social ineptitude, and an inability to make decisions. Other typical child behavior resulting from authoritarian parenting can include difficulty managing anger, poor self-esteem, and rebellious tendencies as the child grows older. Rebellion can last into middle and late adulthood and result in alienation from one’s parents.

Authoritative parenting

Parents with an authoritative style typically develop a close, nurturing relationship with their children. Authoritative parents usually offer clear guidelines and explanations for their expectations as well as consequences the child can expect if they break the rules. Children are likely to be more involved in decisions and discussions on these topics at an age-appropriate level; communication between the parent and child is typically frequent. Finally, discipline is often used as a tool to support the child’s growth and learning rather than strictly as a punishment. 

In child psychology, authoritative parenting is considered to be an optimum parenting style. Generally, this approach is associated with high adolescent competence, producing self-assured, responsible, and capable children who can manage negative emotions effectively. Because independence is encouraged, children can accomplish goals on their own and often have a healthy sense of self-esteem.


Permissive parenting

Caregivers with a permissive parenting-based approach often build warm, nurturing relationships with their children, typically relating to them more on a friendly level than a traditionally parental level. They tend to put forth minimal or no expectations for their child’s behavior and impose few rules. They’re likely to keep lines of communication open, but generally allow their children to figure things out for themselves. 

Limited rules, discipline, and structure can lead to unhealthy eating habits and sleeping patterns, excessive screen time, and future health problems. Without much parental guidance or moderation, children of permissive parents are often impulsive, demanding, selfish, and lacking in self-control.

Uninvolved parenting

Parents with an uninvolved style typically give their children a lot of freedom with little to no guidance. The child’s basic needs are fulfilled, but the parents generally remain detached from their life. Uninvolved parents don’t usually use any particular discipline style and maintain limited communication with their children, who receive little nurturing and few expectations from their parents. 

The lack of parental support and guidance can make children of uninvolved parents more resilient and self-sufficient. However, these children may also have trouble controlling their emotions, experience more academic challenges, and have difficulty maintaining healthy social relationships.

Other common parenting styles

Chinese parenting style

The traditional Chinese parenting style is sometimes considered to be an authoritarian parenting style. As in the authoritarian approach, this is a parenting style characterized by a high degree of parental control. Chinese parents traditionally provide and strictly enforce rules, set high standards, and punish children who fail to obey. However, recent research has suggested that there is more to understanding Chinese parenting, including components that fall outside of the Western notions of authoritarian and authoritative styles.  Namely, researchers have defined five additional dimensions of Chinese parenting: encouragement of modest behavior, defense from harm, shaming, directiveness, and maternal involvement. 

Of note, the Chinese parenting style is associated with high academic achievement, fewer behavior problems, and positive child outcomes, whereas the Western authoritarian parenting approach is associated with negative child outcomes such as aggressive behavior, an increase in risky behavior, and low self-esteem.  

Gentle parenting style

The gentle parenting approach is an evidence-based style that also falls into the category of authoritative parenting. This parenting approach emphasizes creating a strong connection between parent and child through four main components: empathy, respect, understanding, and clear boundaries. Educational psychology has explored the effects of parenting style on academic success. One helpful report found that styles like gentle parenting, in which caregivers display both high demandingness and high responsiveness, are associated with higher academic achievement than other approaches.

In addition to doing well in school, kids raised with gentle parenting may be able to manage their emotions effectively. One other helpful report on early childhood also demonstrated that gentle parenting can help shy toddlers overcome behavioral inhibition. 

Which parenting style is best?

Every parent/caregiver, child, and family situation is different. However, based on research, authoritative parenting is generally considered the ideal parenting style because it combines reasonable parental expectations with robust emotional support. It encourages healthy boundaries, supports children in trying their best, considers and respects a child’s emotions and experiences, and clearly defines the roles of parent and child.

Is permissive parenting right for your family?

Permissive parenting can look different from family to family, since each one is unique. In general however, it’s usually marked by some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Frequently expressing warmth and love to the child
  • Responding to the child’s needs and providing support
  • Rarely saying “no” to the child
  • Not offering a structure or routine
  • Offering few or no rules or expectations for the child
  • Not enforcing any established rules
  • Not enforcing consequences for bad behavior
  • Not offering guidance for the child’s decisions
  • Focusing on being a friend rather than an authority figure

For some, it means creating a warm, emotionally responsive environment where children are free to make choices for themselves. However, permissive parenting can also be seen in a negative light if the lack of limits and responsibility leads to adverse behaviors. 

Potential benefits of permissive parenting

Permissive parenting provides a sensitive, responsive environment for a child, which can result in several potential benefits. For instance, children raised by permissive parents can often be more self-assured because they’ve been encouraged to express themselves freely. This parenting style also offers children more freedom, giving them the assurance to explore and try new things. The relaxed limits of a permissive parenting style can also make it easier for a child to tap into their creativity and passions. They’re likely to have good social skills and high self-esteem overall.

Potential drawbacks of permissive parenting

Using a permissive parenting style can also result in potential drawbacks. Without established limits and responsibility, a child may adopt disruptive behaviors such as impulsivity and aggression. They may be more likely to develop unhealthy habits in relation to sleeping, eating, screen time, and schoolwork, since they’re likely to not have rules about these things. Children of permissive parents may also be more likely to exhibit demanding and selfish behaviors and to experience symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. 

Tips for shifting your parenting style

While some aspects of the permissive parenting style can be beneficial, others can potentially have a negative impact on the child. If you’re concerned that some elements of your parenting style may be too permissive, the tips below may help you shift them to find a more balanced approach:

  • Set rules for your child to follow—and enforce them. Rules teach children what is expected of them and how to behave appropriately. 
  • Reward good behavior and stick to the consequences for bad behavior. 
  • Guide your children through making good decisions in an effort to teach them how to do so themselves as they grow.
  • Try implementing routines in terms of bedtimes, meals, schoolwork, and household responsibilities to give your child a sense of structure and help them learn healthy habits.
  • Establish clear parent/child roles and maintain parental authority. 
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Is permissive parenting the right choice for your family?

How therapy can be helpful for parents 

Parenting can be both a challenging and rewarding experience for those who choose to undertake it. Getting support along the way can help parents handle the challenges so that they can remain healthy while providing their children with a positive upbringing. Building a connected social circle of other parents can be helpful, as can joining local parenting groups or classes. Meeting with a qualified therapist can also be useful if you’re looking to learn how remembered parenting styles from your childhood may influence your current parenting approach. Therapy may also provide emotional support when times are tough, and help you find out more about modeling healthy behaviors for your kids. 

Many busy parents find it difficult to travel to an office for usual in-person appointments with a therapist. In cases like these, online therapy is another option to consider. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, for instance, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that both methods can offer similar benefits in many cases, meaning that most parents can choose the format that works best for them. One study in particular found that “web-based parenting intervention” correlated with “a high level of satisfaction”. 


The parenting style you choose can have a significant impact on your child’s development as well as their future health and wellness. While permissive parenting is not generally considered to be the most effective style, maintaining some elements of it while strengthening a few key areas can help promote better outcomes for your child. Therapy is one way to help you examine how you relate to them and establish a healthier family dynamic. 
Explore the complexities of parenting in therapy
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