While the fear of every punitive parent is being permissive, the fear of every permissive parent is being punitive. Ironically, most parents are permissive out of a desire to not be punitive, and when they can’t take it anymore they become punitive to make the out of control behavior stop. This is one reason that embracing full out punitive approaches to children can cause the children to behave better. Punitive approaches to parenting involve good solid boundaries and that is a good thing.
The problem is that they enforce these boundaries with punishment and create an adversarial relationship between parent and child. In fact our culture is so embracing of punitively approaching children (one reason that the alternative community is so rejecting of punishments) that when parents abandon punitive parenting one of the biggest early struggles is dropping the boundaries when they drop the punishments. That isn’t a good exchange at all!
Permissive parenting is asking permission from your children to parent them.
If you feel frustrated at their behavior, or feel that you must endure things that you are not comfortable with, you are likely being permissive. The major concern with permissive parenting is that children know they are not ready to be in charge – they take comfort in their parents being on top of things and keeping them safe.
They are little and they don’t need us to show them who’s boss, they just need us to know that we are! It is very possible, and preferable, to set good, healthy boundaries with children without punishment. That is the goal of Grace-Based Discipline! It’s the presence of “Discipline” in GBD that makes it not permissive. The truth is, it’s possible to not allow something without punishing for it. This idea is very intimidating for many permissive parents so I’ll stick with our hitting toddler example and share some ideas.
When dealing with a toddler I believe in keeping things simple and kind and firm. It’s best if you can start from birth with stating your boundaries. Even if my two week old swings an arm and catches my face I take their hand in mine and say, while lovingly looking at them, “No hitting. Hitting hurts mommy.” And then I might kiss their fingers or their face. I might take their hand and gently stroke my face or I might gently stroke theirs. This is also what I do with my toddler when they accidentally hit me. If the hitting is done in anger then I firmly but gently take their hand or their arm in my hand and say, still kindly but definitely firmly, “NO hitting. Hitting hurts.”
If they are upset I will use other GBD tools like reflecting feelings and redirection, but the firm boundary of no hitting is enforced. If a child is trying to hit me I will tell them, “I will not allow you to hit me.” And I will hold them in a gentle bear hug in my lap while we talk about their feelings.