In recent times, the talk has been about the rise of the helicopter parent. Most of us are aware that micro-managing our children’s every move isn’t the best way to help them become rounded human beings. The other side of the coin is discussed less frequently. Permissive parenting can be equally damaging – and it’s easier to fall into than you think.
Permissive parents find it hard to set rules for their kids. They hate upsetting them. They’re more likely to give in than enforce boundaries – there’s a reason it’s also called ‘indulgent parenting.’ Don’t confuse permissive parenting with being hands-off and encouraging your child to be independent. This is more about a lack of expectations and discipline.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. It’s not too late to introduce boundaries and structure – but you need to make sure you enforce them.
1Set some basic rules
If your child is used to pleasing themselves, it’s unrealistic to expect drastic and instant change. Introduce new rules gradually – it will make them easier to stick to. If your child is old enough, sit down together and explain it to them.
One example might be: “From now on, I’d like you to eat breakfast before you start playing on your tablet. If you finish in time, then you can have some screen-time before we leave for school.”
Listen to them and encourage them to make suggestions too. It makes kids feel good to know their contributions are valued.
2Agree on a routine
Children need structure and like to know what’s expected of them. Talk to them about how you can take steps together to make daily life a little easier.
For example, perhaps you’ve always let them please themselves when they get home from school. They play on the PS4 until tea time, then complain about having to do homework into the evening. (I know one mother who gives in to her daughter’s pleas that it’s unfair to expect her to concentrate on schoolwork before bedtime. She’s always sending letters into school saying she won’t ‘force’ her child to do homework.)
3Follow it through
It would be easy to make allowances, and of course, there are times when you’ll have to use your judgement. But remember that kids – especially teenagers – also know how to play us.
“I know I’m supposed to help you with the shopping, but James invited me to his house to work on a school project,” they say. What parent will insist a child does chores when they’re displaying enthusiasm for schoolwork?
Consider each request, and make sure there’s an alternative ‘payback’ if necessary. Yes, your child can go to James’s house rather than come shopping – but tomorrow they can help you cook dinner instead.
4Address bad behaviour
Be tolerant of genuine lapses but don’t ignore them. Connect with your child before you correct them – let them know you understand their feelings.
“I know it’s annoying when your little sister doesn’t knock before she comes into your room. But we agreed you wouldn’t shout at her or push her out. How could you handle that instead?”
It’s also a good idea to be clear about any penalties you might impose – and then see them through. Remember, your job isn’t to keep your child happy at all costs. You’re there to support and guide them.
5Reward good behaviour
Make sure you praise your child when they follow the new rules. Knowing you’ve noticed and that they are pleasing you is a massive boost to their self-esteem and their happiness.
Arrange little treats or allow them special privileges sometimes, too. It will keep them motivated to carry on, and before long this new way of behaving will become a habit.
6Stick to it
There are times when you’ll feel uncomfortable with enforcing the new rules, but it’s vital you see it through. Stay calm, even when your child isn’t. Let them know you’re always willing to listen and have a discussion with them, but you expect the same courtesy.
Just because you’re adopting a firmer parenting style doesn’t mean you have to be any less loving or tender towards your child. Make sure you communicate with them, so they understand why things are changing. Be kind but consistent, and it will be worth it.