Permissive Parenting Hurts Gentle Parenting

My husband and I recently took a family trip to Florida. It was an absolutely wonderful trip.  I got to meet a couple of my gentle parenting Facebook friends and their children during the trip.

It was interesting though because there were a few conversations about parents not “controlling” (I hate the word “control” when it comes to children.  Children are not for controlling!) their children by a few people who don’t completely understand about gentle parenting.  It did seem though that what they described, children running around a restaurant with no boundaries, was permissive parenting.

Sadly, many people mistake gentle parenting for permissive parenting. These two styles of parenting are completely different!  Let me define them before I talk about why permissive parenting is hurting the gentle parenting movement.

There are actually three parenting styles.  These three parenting styles are authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. If parents physically punish their children, they are authoritarian, even if they do some of the things that authoritative parents do such as listening to their children at times or offer some choices to the children. This is because authoritarian parenting stresses obedience without question, first-time obedience, strictness, and the use of punishment, especially corporal punishment, with their children.

Authoritarian parents also have very high (usually beyond what the children are developmentally capable of) expectations for their children. While authoritarian parents, in general, love their children very much and simply want the best for them, these parents tend to focus more on keeping control of their children than on using effective discipline strategies that respect the actual needs of the individual child.

Authoritative parents are firm but gentle with their children. They take the time to learn about child development and know at which stage their children are developmentally in order to gain a better understanding of their children’s behaviors.

Authoritative parents set firm, realistic boundaries and limits for their children based on the developmental stage of their children. While these parents stick to their guns on some things, such as bedtime and not allowing their children to eat cookies before suppertime, they always listen to all of their children’s feelings and validate those feelings.

In situations where negotiation can occur, such as allowing five more minutes of playtime before having their children clean up, these parents do so. These parents also give their children simple choices when appropriate, but they are not afraid to let their children know when something is not a choice and cooperation is absolutely required. When children don’t cooperate, authoritative parents will gently but firmly help their children cooperate. And these parents use natural and logical consequences with their children instead of punishment.

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Permissive parenting, on the other hand, is the direct opposite of authoritarian parenting. Permissive parenting is just as harmful and abusive to children as authoritarian parenting, even though these two parenting styles are on the two polar ends when it comes to parenting styles.

Permissive parents do not set limits or boundaries for their children. And when these parents do set limits and boundaries for their children, they often don’t consistently enforce them. Some permissive parents allow their children to “walk all over them,” to have whatever they want, and rarely do these parents give their children appropriate consequences when necessary.

Other permissive parents outright neglect all of their children’s needs. They do not even give their children appropriate and necessary care. All of permissive parenting, as I said above, is abusive because either type does not provide children with what they need to thrive. It also exasperates and frustrates children not to have any discipline just like spanking them does. Permissive and authoritarian parents break God’s charge for parents not to frustrate or exasperate their children in Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21.

So when I hear about parents letting their preschool children run around in a restaurant, I cringe.  Everyone there was probably thinking, “Parents today let their kids run wild.  I wish they’d spank those brats.”  Spanking/hitting those preschoolers would not teach them how to behave in a restaurant.  Rather, spanking/hitting them would teach fear which is not a good thing.

Plus, referring to children in a derogatory manner is never good. But permissive parenting brings out the authoritarians with force.

So, how would a gentle (authoritative) parent handle this situation?  First, they would have been practicing in a fun, playful way how to eat at a restaurant.  They would have been modeling manners from the time the children were infants.

Second, they would know that young children can’t sit quietly for long periods of time and would have brought crayons and paper for the children to color.  They also would have engaged the children in the family conversation.

Third, they would have ordered the food as soon as possible so the children didn’t have to wait as long.

And finally, if the children would have gotten antsy and started running around, the gentle parent would have stopped them and perhaps they would have left early.

Yes, gentle parents allow their children to be children, which for authoritarian parents, this may look like permissiveness because the children aren’t being “controlled,” but it isn’t.  It’s respecting the children for who they are.

I had the pleasure of going out to eat with a gentle family while in Florida and the children were excellent!  They were allowed to play quietly at the table.  They were included in the conversation.  Not once did they act up.

Respected children are better behaved because they are seen and treated like the little people that they are.  Their needs are met.  They are taught right from wrong without it being scary.  They are aware of limits and consequences.

Permissive parenting does not treat children as little people.  Children are not taught right from wrong.  And they crave limits and consequences.

Worse yet, people mistake permissive parenting with gentle parenting!

If these people could hang out with children who are gentle parented, they would never confuse it with permissiveness.  They also would be against spanking/hitting and other forms of punishment because gentle parented children are amazing!

Yes, all children have their not so nice moments, but hey, so do I.  What I see in children who are respected is that they have empathy and can eventually put themselves in other’s shoes as that is how their parents teach them.  They also don’t need to act up to get attention because attention is automatically given to them.  And they don’t regularly get put in situations where it’s too much for them to handle.

Permissive parenting creates self-entitled and struggle in life just as spanked/hit children do.  They don’t learn self-control either which can lead them down a bad road.

Gentle, authoritative, attachment parenting is truly the best way to raise children.  Yes, there will be times when gentle parents lean toward authoritarianism or permissiveness depending on the situation, and that is okay.  But people should be able to look at a family and tell if they are gentle.

I’m asking all parents to please look at your parenting and make sure you are in the authoritative, gentle, respectful parenting style.  Stop making people confuse the three parenting styles.  Make authoritarian parents want to come to the middle and become authoritative.

Respectful adults come from children who were respected throughout childhood!

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Consequences vs. Punishment

Many people mistake punishments with consequences.

Disciplinary consequences are either natural or logical. They relate directly to the child’s behavior and help the child learn. Pain may be a by-product of the disciplinary consequence.

Punishment, on the other hand, is arbitrary, inflicts pain on the child, is not related to the child’s behavior, and do not help the child. In other words, punishment intentionally inflicts pain on children whereas disciplinary consequences never intentionally inflicts pain on children.

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Common sense must come in here. If the natural consequence will injure the child, don’t allow it to happen. When I say that pain may be a by-product of a disciplinary consequence, I mean, for example, a child not being able to find his/her favorite toy because he/she didn’t clean up and now can’t find it is a disciplinary consequence.

Another example of a disciplinary consequence is the child not putting his/her bike away in the garage and the rain causes the bike to rust. Or, the child missing a fun outing because he/she wouldn’t get dressed in time to go. None of these are punitive, but the child will be sad.

A natural consequence happens naturally. Children refusing to wear a coat outside will get cold. Hitting a friend makes the friend cry and not want to play anymore. We don’t need to impose any other consequence or punishment on children. They will learn from the natural consequence especially if we are there to talk to them about what happened. God allows us to deal with the natural consequences of our actions.

A logical consequence is imposed by us, but it still directly relates to the child’s behavior. For example, if the child refuses to turn off the TV to do his or her homework, he or she won’t finish his or her homework on time and will get a lower grade. And since TV is interfering with homework, he or she may not be able to watch as much TV for a while. If a child lies about where he or she went with his or her friends, then he or she won’t be able to go out with friends alone until he or she wins back our trust.

One thing I must caution with using logical consequences with children is that it is very easy to use them to punish children. Again, the idea behind logical consequences is not to punish our children. They are to continue helping our children take responsibility for their actions, to help produce godly sorrow in them instead of worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow makes the child truly want to repent and make things right.

A punishment is the parent taking the favorite toy away for not cleaning up. Or a parent purposely damaging the bike. Or saying, “No playground because you didn’t obey.” Making the child hurt is punishment. Allowing reasonable consequences is discipline. Of course, it’s also important to respond empatheticallly to by-product pain. “Oh, I’m sorry you lost your favorite toy. We can clean up and see if we can find it!”

Natural and logical consequences may hurt, but not because someone is inflicting pain on us. They hurt because we realize our actions caused the consequences. This is why natural and logical consequences work best for children rather than inflicting pain on them.

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We need to remember that discipline means “to teach.” Discipline helps children learn to express their negative feelings appropriately, learn how to behave, learn empathy, learn limits, learn that there are consequences–both positive and negative– to their actions, and learn life skills. It takes much more work to discipline a child than to punish him/her.

Discipline is long term whereas punishment is short term and has long term negative effects.

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