Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting

Many couples struggle with their different parenting styles, one being generally strict and one laissez faire. We also struggle within ourselves-if we are too permissive and things become chaotic, we may explode with anger. If we are overly strict and that doesn’t work, we may give up completely. We don’t want to be authoritarian, that is, using coercion, blame, and threats; nor do we want to be permissive, that is, doing anything to please or giving up boundaries completely.

How do you balance the desire to develop responsibility and freedom in your children to bring them up as capable and loving individuals?

There are positive motivations underlying both authoritarian and permissive parenting. Yet when parents are too strict or too lenient there are harmful consequences.

Some parents are strict or permissive in only one or two areas and then the opposite in other areas, such as doing homework, use of technology, eating habits, and bedtime. Both philosophies have wonderful values at their core, but can be used to such an extreme that they backfire.

Authoritarian parenting

Authoritarian parents want their children to be capable, successful, responsible, and independent.

Excessive authoritarianism can be harmful in the following five ways.

1. Relationship is ignored. The relationship with the child gets ignored, and there’s little appreciation for playfulness, imagination, and creativity.

2. Harsh inner critic. The child develops a voice in his or her head that is overly self-critical, replicating the parent’s voice.

3. Target for bossy people. Having learned to be obedient, the child is primed to be submissive to other authoritarians.

4. Sneaky and secretive. Obedient children often can only satisfy their own curiosities and desires by sneaking around and lying to their parents because they are afraid of their parents’ strict reactions.

5. Hatred and anger. If there’s a lot of shame and punishment, the child may end up hating themselves and/or their parents. Such hatred and anger may also lead to a violent demeanor.

Permissive parenting

Permissive parents want their children to be happy, to feel loved, to be creative, and to enjoy the moment.

Excessive permissiveness, however, can lead to the following four harmful effects:

1. Demanding children. When parents’ fear of conflict leads them to overindulge their children, the children learn to become entitled and demanding.

2. No self-discipline. An over-indulged child doesn’t learn to postpone gratification, a key quality to success and happiness in life.

3. Anxious and insecure. Ironically, when children are allowed to do whatever they want without boundaries, they feel less self-empowered and confident. They don’t know how to place boundaries on themselves or on others.

4. No respect. If the parent is always trying to please the child, the message is sent that the parent feels very uncomfortable with any kind of anxiety or discomfort.

How to balance responsibility and freedom

Respectful parenting

1. Discipline with respect. Provide discipline with respect and kindness. You can set boundaries without being overly demanding or authoritarian.

2. Listen with empathy. If you listen to your children, you’ll be able to know where they’re coming from. As a result, you’ll be able to speak to them more effectively. Also, when you listen to your children, they are more likely to listen to you.

3. Be reasonable. Don’t be afraid to be flexible or amend a rule or a consequence, especially if you set the consequence when you were in the heat of anger. But this doesn’t mean you change reasonable rules and consequences simply because they beg you to do so.

4. Don’t try to be liked. You can be kind and enjoy being liked. Yet the moment they sense that you desperately want them to like you, you lose your authority and the respect they have for you.

5. Stand firm when necessary. Don’t be afraid to insist on rules and consequences that you believe are reasonable and important. Stand firm, not by losing your temper, but by using your personal power, which is often steady and quiet. Avoid begging and pleading. That only shows lack of personal authority.

In conclusion, try to role model having self-discipline and respect, while still being able to enjoy life, and have a relationship with your child.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Parenting Together: Authoritarian vs. Permissive Parenting.”

18 thoughts on “Authoritarian vs Permissive Parenting

  1. worried Sarah

    I’d really appreciate any advice you may have for me in helping my best friend. We met when our kids started school. Both young moms. I learned to be very authoritarian as a single, bookworm without family support. I became a parent knowing only that I knew nothing about how to be a good parent so I devoured parenting books & adopted the practices that made sense for me & the values I wanted us to live by. Our ‘family’ is made up of the amazing people my son & I have met over the years. My best friend is the heart of that. I love her dearly but she is a very permissive parent. Until 6 months ago, things weren’t ideal but her husband helped balancing things out with their children-ages 23, 11 and 8-he passed away in March. There are some serious problems developing now that can’t be ignored despite the grief we are experiencing. I want to help her but don’t know how. The younger kids spend almost 100% of their time staring at screens and refuse to do homework or go to school-always been a struggle but has gotten to the point of social services truancy investigation. The oldest has also always had issues with school, work, relationships & boundaries but is now bullying her & doing some pretty dangerous things with drugs & fascination with weapons. They are all in counseling but it is not enough. I will do anything I can to help them but I’m lost trying to figure out how. I’d be very grateful for any advice you may have. Thanks so very much!

    1. Alison Post author

      This is a very tough situation. Here are some thoughts, although I have no magic answer unfortunately.

      First, it is likely that your friend is still grieving the loss of her husband, and should be encouraged to seek counseling. It would be really helpful if she could get both individual and family counseling, with all her children or one child at a time. Maybe there’s some local community organization or church that might have someone to talk to. Perhaps she could also call the school and ask that the school counselors talk to the children about their loss. If they connect with the counselor, some of the school issues might improve as well.

      Since you are willing to help your friend, any kind of practical assistance to get her children to school on time, or help with homework or take care of the kids when she goes to counseling might be very helpful. Of course you can’t force her to do any of these things, but encouragement can be a good motivational force.

      Regarding the 23 year old who is bullying his mother and involved with drugs and weapons, this is where it gets serious for the whole family. For her own safety and that of the younger kids, the 23 year old should not be allowed to live in their home unless there is respect for the family and for legality, in this case, no drugs, and no weapons in the home. If the mother were able to draw that boundary and require the oldest to move out, with the caveat that when he or she is clean, has a job, and is respectful, he or she would be welcome to visit or stay temporarily, that may have an impact on the rest of the family dynamic. Having a bullying 23 year old around can only be a bad influence on the younger children. Fear and insecurity can cause depression and bad behavior at school.

      So I would encourage your friend to seek help in getting the oldest to move out without having a violent scene. She needs help understanding that despite the loss of the father, it would be best for everyone involved to disallow rude, illegal, or violent behavior in the household. She needs to convey to the oldest that she is doing him or her a disservice by allowing such self-destructive and bullying behavior to continue in her household. At 23, the child should be working or going to school full time and showing gratitude to anyone giving him or her free housing.

      Good luck. Let me know how it goes.


  2. katherine

    good analytical presentation but how about some examples of real life issues and the difficulties, conflicts, setting boundaries, etc. give us real life situations. let us see and witness the concepts in action…show us the application!

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