10 Steps to Stop Permissive Parenting

Last week, I discussed the concept of permissive parenting and how it differs from positive parenting.

Today, I wanted to provide 10 Steps to Stop Permissive Parenting, but I want to first establish that this is a no-judgement post.

This post is intended to be a guide for those who identify themselves as struggling with permissive parenting and want to change their parenting style to be more in line with positive parenting. Permissive parenting can often have some difficult roots and causes, so please be gentle with yourself and others that you identify as permissive parents. Seek and provide support whenever you feel you need it.

A kind & thorough post on how to stop being a permissive parent, and start using positive discipline to encourage positive behaviour in children. 10 steps and encouragement to change.

Here are some steps to help you identify permissive parenting habits and move towards a more intentional and balanced approach to positive parenting.

1. Are you a Permissive Parent?

It can be hard to know if you’re a “permissive parent” or if you’re just surrounded by “stricter” parenting peers and/or if your child is just going through a developmental phase.

These three questions can help you gauge whether your permissiveness has started to cross a line:

  1. Do you allow your child to treat you (or others) in a way that you would not (or should not) allow another person to treat you?
  2. Are you capable and willing to do what it takes to end your child’s negative behaviours?
  3. Does your child consistently display respect for (parental) authority or exhibit understanding (and respect) of boundaries?


2. Resolve to Resolve Your Past

Often, permissive parenting has a lot of hurt or guilt behind it. I get it – I grew up in a military household that was scarred with mental illness. When your own parenting experience was less than ideal, two negative consequences can tend to come out of it:

  1. You don’t have a safe model of parenting behaviour to draw from
  2. You fear repeating the mistakes that were made by your parents — and do everything to not come close to them

Sometimes, we attach to anecdotes about our childhood that made us feel sad and unloved and make that exemplary of our parenting mission — for example, I’ve discussed how hard it was for me to purge books because my mom never kept anything from our childhoods.

However, the fact that my mom refused to keep objects out of sentimental attachment wasn’t actually the issue (and hoarding myself didn’t solve that), the underlying issue that I experienced as a child was that I didn’t feel like my mom cared about me or the things that were important to me (i.e., when I told her about my day, she expressed disinterest; never remembered the names of my friends, etc), but as a child I couldn’t process that big of a thought so I just remember it as “she always threw out my stuff and that made me feel unloved.”

Not getting to the bottom of our own “parenting junk drawer” allows that junk to spill into our own parenting. This can be a long process, but admitting that your parenting choices are being informed by your child-self can help us step back and evaluate our choices. Seek support with this step whenever possible.


3. Establish a Parenting Standard

Is there a friend whose parenting appeals to you? Or, perhaps an online mentor? I have two go-to resources that I consult when I feel like I need some outside advice — Amanda Morgan’s Positive Guidance E-Course and Janet Lansbury’s wonderful blog and books.

If you have a friend that you are consulting, try to pick a friend who respects your struggles and understands what your parenting goals are — they may be different than their own, so it’s important that there’s a respect for your differences. Maybe schedule weekly (or daily!) check-ins to discuss what worked and didn’t work that day.

There are also real life parenting coaches and experts that you can hire to come into your home as a consultant – do a quick google search to see if there is one in your area.


4. Give Yourself Space and Grace

Changing anything can be hard, but especially so when it comes to parenting as you might have some vocal disapproval. While you may have a lot of other things going on at the time, you need to prioritize some down-time and focus on centering yourself.

There are going to be horrible moments. You are going to doubt yourself and this new path. Your child is going to step up to new testing extremes in the face of this sudden appearance of boundaries. You need to make sure that you are as emotionally prepared as possible to deal with those doubts and setbacks, and you need to forgive yourself day to day.


10 Steps to Stop Permissive Parenting - a gentle and thorough guide to stopping permissive parenting and moving towards a more intentional, positive discipline approach


5. Understand Your Strengths

So many parents wish they could have the patience and empathy that permissive parents display. Empathy is a strength, as long as it is being used to guide children and not simply to tolerate poor behaviour.

Use your patience in practicing your new boundaries and expectations – don’t wait until you are near the end of your patience to start implementing or following-up on a rule. Use your empathy to understand your child, but also to explain (briefly!) to them how to be empathetic.


6. Establish New Rules of Acceptable Behaviour (Expectations)

What are the most extreme behaviours that need to stop? Are there smaller, less noticeable behaviours that are feeding into those behaviours?

For example, before Ella starts really acting up, she starts with making silly baby noises and being goofy. This behaviour in itself is not negative but it always ends in really poor behavior and rule breaking. Always. Now, anytime she starts this behavior, I shut it down – even if the baby talk itself isn’t poor behavior, I know where it’s going to go and so does she.

Or, maybe your child is showing you that they are “starting small” and working their way up. They maybe start towing the line of breaking a rule before they full out break it.

What comments have you received about your child’s behaviour and is there possibly any validity to them?

There are tons of opinions out there and most should be ignored – but chances are if a few stick out to you, or really hit a nerve, they may have some validity.

Set standards and take some time to really reflect on them. Are these strict enough? Are they too strict? How are you going to prepare yourself to enforce them?

Use your patience in practicing your new boundaries and expectations – don’t wait until you are near the end of your patience to start implementing or following-up on a rule. Use your empathy to understand your child, but also to explain (briefly) to them how to be empathetic.


7. Explain the Rules or Set up a Schedule

Older children can be sat down and have the rules explained to them (allow discussion for any questions, but do not make the new rules negotiable — trust that you have put enough thought into them beforehand). Younger children, it might be best to explain rules in a positive way when the situations present themselves, for example, if getting ready to go out is always difficult, explain your expectations five minutes previous to getting ready.

Children also thrive on a schedule. Creating a “My Day” book or making a visual schedule that you regularly go over with the children can be a life-saver — it can also take some of the conflict out of the situation, as the “schedule” is saying what they have to do, not you. (You’ll likely have enough conflict as it is!)


8. Follow Through

Don’t make excuses, for yourself or for them. There is always a reason why a child is making poor decisions, just like there is always a reason for an adult to make poor decisions — but it doesn’t excuse the behaviour and it doesn’t help the child to be so blindly empathetic as to not hold them responsible.

Yes, care about your child, care about what’s going on for them, explain to them that you understand and the rule still applies, the boundary still exists. “Yes, you’re sad that your green shirt was in the wash and you can’t throw your clothes around the hallway. We need to clean this up now.”

Also, do not set standards or consequences that you are not willing or capable of following up on.


9. Recognize Your Triumphs

And dare I say? Reward them. They may be few and far between at first, but if you stick to it you will quickly start noticing little victories.

You can also choose if you want to reward your child’s participating in the process. Maybe if they continue getting ready to leave in a respectful and timely way, you’ll leave a treat in their pocket after a week, or stop somewhere special and let them know why they are getting a treat. You can set this up as a positive reinforcement (where they know about the reward in advance) or as a special surprise that doesn’t serve as an incentive and still makes them feel special and acknowledged for their good choices.


10. Reflect and Move Forward

After a week, a month, whatever period of time is feasible for you, reflect on what is working in changing your parenting habits, and what is not working. Try to do this as unemotionally as possible — you’re not a bad parent for having a hard time changing. By getting to the root of why things aren’t working, or repeating behaviours that are working, we can create greater future success.

I hope this list of 10 tips to Stop Permissive Parenting was helpful to you, and if you’d like to receive my parenting inspiration, hands-on learning ideas, and recipes to your e-mail inbox, please sign up to my free weekly newsletter.

For more Montessori-inspired parenting posts, check out our Montessori Approaches to Sleep post and our 6 Ways to Raising Internally Motivated Kids.

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  1. Wonderful advice! I can really relate to your childhood struggles as I had some of the same issues. I will think on these tips and attempt to apply them. 🙂 Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Bess. I think so much of our parenting struggles or triumphs can be tied to our own childhoods, it’s an important connection to explore when we encounter issues.

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