Okay – it’s time to address a very important misunderstanding that will lead you to permissiveness almost every time. Some things are age appropriate.
This is true. But age appropriate does not mean “appropriate” and therefore allowing them is permissive. Expect them, yes. Endure them – not at all necessary. For this reason I now use “age expected” instead of age appropriate.
Here’s an example . . . It is age expected for a toddler to hit. This is a way that they express their frustration, disappointment, even glee! And for a pre-verbal little one it makes sense that they would express themselves physically. But this doesn’t mean it’s okay to just let a child hit you. And stopping them isn’t punitive! It’s healthy. It’s good boundaries.
In fact – it’s good parenting to not allow a child to hit you. Developmentally they do not intend to hurt you when they hit. But that is what happens very often. And it’s our responsibility as parents to prevent the natural consequences that our children are not prepared to learn from.
Also, everything we do teaches our children our boundaries – what we will allow them to do; how we will allow them to treat us. As Dr. Phil says, “We teach others how to treat us”. Allowing a child to hit you will teach them to hit you. If that is not what you want them to learn then I encourage you to simply not allow it.
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.
Some parents are hesitant about using the Bear Hug (the fifth step of the Five Steps) because they perceive it to be a form of restraining a child. It is, but not in the classic sense of a restraint. It is specifically designed to be a hold that is not able to damage a child and the position of the parent in relation to the child is that of a non-threatening boundary. Rather than being over the child and in their face the Bear Hug puts the parent behind the child, at their level, and speaking gently in their ear. If you have ever held your child in your lap and told stories you have used a loose version of a Bear Hug. Some children don’t like to be held, this is true. Some children have sensory issues and others resist for their own reasons. Unless a child is truly being violent I do not believe that a Bear Hug is a necessary thing. If a child is being violent then I do not hesitate to use the Bear Hug and I reassure them that I will let them go as soon as they can stop themselves from hitting/kicking/hurting/etc. It is an external boundary for when internal boundaries are failing the child.
One way that I help my children to associate the Bear Hug with safety, security and love is to use it during calm times to be a tight loving hug. I might stoop behind my child and wrap them in a Bear Hug and whisper how much I love them or am enjoying whatever they are doing. I use some descriptive praise. “You are playing with all of your blocks and building such big towers.” “You are mothering your baby with such love. You will be a wonderful mother someday.” “You are so busy! I just needed a hug and to tell you I love you.” The things I whisper in their ears when using the Bear Hug for a meltdown are full of the same love only they have boundaries added to help the child know what is expected of them when they are feeling this way.
You are angry.
You really want to hit me.
Hitting hurts and I will not let you hit me.
When you’re ready to not hit me I’d love to comfort you
(in our home this means the child is hugging me back
and I pat their back while cradle holding them).
Let me know when you’re ready.
You are so upset. You may be upset; you may not hit me. Can you
think of a way to get your upset out without hurting?
I’m always willing to offer ideas but with a verbal child it’s great to help them problem solve even when they are upset. This is a great step towards responding appropriately first.
A few other common issues and examples to illustrate setting boundaries without punishment:
“If you throw your food on the floor then you are telling me that you are done eating.” So throwing food ends the meal. When introducing this idea it’s helpful to give second chances when the child realizes they’ve ended the meal, but throwing a third time is starting a game I’m not willing to play.
“It is bedtime and that means stay in your bed.” Sit outside the door and calmly, and without comment, return the child to their bed every time they get up. I don’t happen to worry about bedtimes but for some it’s important to have children in their own bed and endless bedtimes are not necessary. I would recommend this for an older toddler or child who is struggling and I do not at all recommend this for babies or young toddlers. There are lots of better answers for sleep issues in wee ones!
“Food stays at the table.” This is our rule, as I don’t mind if children are up and down but food is not allowed to leave the table. If a child is caught wandering with food they are returned with this reminder and the food is put on the table. A variation for those who want their children to stay at the table during mealtimes is, “Leaving the table means you are done eating.” As with the throwing food boundary I would be more lenient when introducing this rule, but three times up means the child is wanting to play more than they are wanting to eat.
As you can see, none of these examples needs punishment attached to drive home the lesson. And each of the boundaries is age appropriate! The idea of age appropriate is not an excuse for allowing poor behavior and it’s not a reason to endure it. Rather, studying what is age appropriate will prepare you for what to expect, remind you that almost all children of this age do this (in other words, it’s not just your child and it’s nothing personal!) And encourage you to be prepared with a boundary and a plan for how to prevent a negative impact.
One thing to remember when setting boundaries is that each of us has different tolerance levels for things. This means that what is bothering you is a great indicator that you need to set a boundary, but it’s not the only time one is needed.
Especially in our first example of a hitting toddler, it’s important to not think the world has to endure your child being a toddler. There is never a time where it’s okay for your child to hurt someone else, or be destructive, without you stepping in a putting a stop to it. When you are working to not be punitive and others know it they will be looking to see what you do instead of punishment.
Letting them see you do SOMETHING will go a long way in them not accusing you of being permissive – because it’s a long way from actually being permissive.