Write me: rebecca@positive-parents.org


Over the past year, I have had a few comments on PPTB suggesting that we are permissive parents who fail to set appropriate boundaries, let our children run wild, and fail to discipline them whatsoever. Permissive parenting is just as bad as authoritarian parenting, and we certainly do not advocate being permissive. For more on this, read What’s Wrong With Permissive Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham. So, to bust this myth for good, I’d like to make a few points.

DO set appropriate limits for your children. Children rely on us to keep them safe and to teach them. Don’t go overboard with unnecessary limits as this will be overwhelming for the child, but choose what is most important to you during that particular stage of development, set the limit, and stick to it. The difference with positive parenting is not the lack of limits, but the way in which limits are set and enforced.

Your 18 month old is a little explorer. She really likes to climb too! She can even climb up in the chair, then up on the kitchen table.

Authoritarian reaction: Sternly, “Do NOT climb up there again!” The next time the child climbs onto the table, she is forcefully removed and sat in a time out chair in the corner, crying.

Permissive reaction: “Honey, I told you not to climb. Please get down.” No action is taken. “Honey, I asked you to get down. You might fall.” At this point, the permissive parent may not take action and hope for the best for finally get up to remove the child from the table.

Positive reaction: The first time your child attempts to climb on the table, you intervene, saying “Climbing is fun! Let’s find a safe place for you to climb. This table is not safe.” Let her climb over some couch cushions, if she wants. Climbing itself is not a misbehavior. She may conquer Mount Everest one day! The goal is to keep her safe and teach her what is appropriate. The next time she heads for the table, immediately and gently take her from the table, repeating the above. If she gets upset, acknowledge her upset. “I see you’re mad. You want to climb, but that isn’t safe. Let’s go play over here.”

The positive parent set the limit, stuck to the limit by not allowing the child to climb on the table, but showed the child an appropriate outlet and empathized with her feelings.

Children should be respected and valued like adults are, but we realize they are not adults. They depend on their parents for leadership and guidance. If your kids are running your house, they’re probably not happy kids. No child wants to be the leader, its too much responsibility for them. Read How To Be The Leader Your Child Needs for more on leadership.

You have a 5 year old and a 2 year old, and you had to come to the store to pick up a few items. Your 5 year old is begging for a new toy, and your 2 year old is late for his nap and is cranky.

Authoritarian reaction: To the 5 year old: “I told you before we came that you couldn’t have a new toy. If you ask one more time, you’ll get it when we get home.” To the cranky 2 year old, “Will you stop whining? We’ll be leaving in just a minute. I can’t take you kids anywhere!”

Permissive reaction: Buys both kids a new toy AND a sucker to appease them until the shopping is done.

Positive reaction: *TIP* Don’t try a store trip if it’s nap time and your child is cranky. 🙂 To the 5 year old, “That is such a cool toy! I wish I could buy it for you. Is there a whole set of them? Tell me about the rest of them!” If your child still asks for the toy (mine would!) you can say, “You really want that toy! I see how much you want it. It’s disappointing when we can’t get something we want right away.” Empathize with his disappointment. We all get disappointed when we can’t get stuff we want. To the 2 year old, “I know you’re tired. Will you be my helper? I’m looking for bananas. Do you see any bananas?” It’s also not a bad idea to carry things in your purse that you know your child likes. My own son loves to draw, so if I give him paper and a pencil anywhere, he’s a happy camper.

The positive parent showed leadership by being prepared and skillfully using tools from the PP toolkit (fantasizing with the child with “That is a cool toy, I wish I could buy it for you,” empathy “I see how much you want it. It’s disappointing when we can’t get something we want right away” and “I know you’re tired,” and distraction “Will you be my helper? I’m looking for bananas.”

In Positive Parenting, discipline means “to teach” not “to punish.” Therefore, we are always disciplining our children! We are mindful that every interaction with them teaches them something, every interaction they see us have with others and that they have with others teaches them something. There are lots of ways to teach appropriate behavior! For some ideas, check out the post Positive Parenting: What, Why, How?

Your 2 year old has started hitting. At a play date, someone snatches her toy, and she whacks the snatcher with a right hand.

Authoritarian reaction: Spanks the child, saying “You know better than to hit!”

Permissive reaction: Ignores the hitting, blames the other child, or nonchalantly says, “We don’t hit” from across the room.

Positive reaction: Goes to child immediately and removes her from the situation. Gets down on her level and says, “You’re mad! She took your toy and you got mad! Hitting hurts. Sit here with me until you’re feeling better.” Have her remain on your lap or sit next to you. Help her get regulated by empathizing with her emotion. When she is calm, tell her again that hitting hurts, and she may not hit. If you want to remain at the play date, watch closely and try to intervene before anything escalates to something physical. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Remain calm, empathize with what she is feeling, but be firm that hitting is unacceptable and take action immediately.

As a final note, we post a lot of brain development articles on PPTB, and we talk about what is age-appropriate often; however, just because it is age appropriate doesn’t mean “Oh, its normal, let him by with it.” The reason why this knowledge is important is this: In the above scenario with the hitting 2 year old, if you are unaware of how the brain develops and that your child does not yet have access to higher brain functions that allow her pause, reason, and use logic, then you might just assume your child is being “mean” or defiant. However, when you understand that this is age-appropriate behavior BECAUSE anger sends her into her lower brain functions of “fight or flight” then you can 1) empathize with her (which will help her brain develop better) and 2) guide her behavior until she is cognitively able to guide them herself. To learn more about brain development, read Understanding Brain Development In Young Children and Brain Development in Children.


Please visit my shop for wrist bands, prints, and eBooks.


  • KimraDiggs Posted 22 June 2011 23:41

    Great post. I'm gonna send this to some family members who might think I'm "permissive" in the future.

  • Mama Eve Posted 23 June 2011 7:53

    I really appreciate how you've laid out examples and shown how positive parenting really works. I'm always working on being a positive parent (not a permissive or authoritarian one) and it's a work in progress. Articles like these that give me reminders about the parent I want to be are so helpful! Thank you. <3

  • Brenda K. Posted 23 June 2011 9:06

    Thank you for so clearly explaining what positive parenting is and is not. I am adding your blog to my list of Parenting resources to check regularly.

  • Claire Posted 23 June 2011 10:40

    Really good advice. I'm a teacher, not a parent, but totally agree that positive and permissive are very different things!


  • Mama Posted 23 June 2011 17:28

    love it!

  • Mollyandollie Posted 25 June 2011 18:05

    There's a great article in the Atlantic Monthly that you should check out:

  • RE Posted 20 July 2011 16:08

    Thank you, everyone. 🙂

  • Anonymous Posted 21 December 2011 17:12

    This is a really great post. I love it. I have had people tell me that my choice of parenting is permissive and I just have to stay confident in what I'm doing and know that being a positive, attached parent is right for my family.

  • Neli Posted 5 April 2012 11:33

    Surprisingly, I found myself falling in the permissive trap at times, so your clear description of the differences provided for a great way to realize that! Thank you!
    Just one question: what would be an appropriate response to a 20-months-old that at times hits and bites without reason for anger? He does it often (especially with his dad) while playing in close physical contact, but also sometimes when he wakes up in the morning, to make sure we wake up too 🙂 I see it's not done with malice and no anger either, but for fun. But it hurts!

  • Wanderlust Posted 10 September 2012 6:25

    Excellent article! I love reading the PP posts but I get frustrated reading about people who seem to be letting their kids get out of control out of misguided reluctance to stop them from "expressing their feelings". I feel strongly that a parents role is to teach their child to be able to be socially successful happy balanced individuals who understand limits and why they are there, but also feel empowered to be creative and expressive in positive ways within the limits. I'm learning a lot from posts such as these as I had thought that I needed to be firm and have slipped into authoritarian roles thinking that was what was needed for my spirited 3 year old (consistent clear limits and consequences). I learned quickly that going up against her didn't work, but getting her to work WITH me achieves much better outcomes. It takes so much more attention and focus, and as a single working mother thats not easy…but worth it as I can see her growing more and more independent and needing less of my guidance because she understands WHY things should be done a certain way, rather than doing it because I said so. So it does make life easier longer term.

  • KDoNae Posted 1 June 2013 15:23

    The more I read the more I feel that I agree with you on many points. For instance I do believe that teaching is very important and giving your child alternative for inappropriate behavior is essential, but I have to say I disagree on the idea that putting child in timeout or spanking is inappropriate or punishment. A timeout can be a very useful discipline tool if used in the right way. For example your scenario with the child hitting the other child. If the adult were to take that toddler aside and tell them that they needed a few minutes to cool down then afterward explain to them why they have been put there and that when they are angry it is better to walk away if possible. All the sudden time out become part of the teaching process. Just as adults need to walk away so do children. When a child is having a hard time expressing their feeling putting them in timeout can give them a minute to collect their thoughts. I also believe that negative consequences need to be taught and shown to children and sometimes the only way to do that is to give a spanking. For instance if a child were to run in the road a spanking can be a teaching tool something a child will remember and is much better than the alternative of them being hit by a car! As the parent you must explain this to your child. Tell them why you are giving them the discipline you are giving them otherwise it just becomes a punishment yes, but sometimes what you term as punishment, is not because of the way it is used by the parent. I agree that doling out punishment without an explanation (without love and kindness) is wrong and can not happen but if used with love and a desire to teach traditional punishment becomes discipline.

  • Lucky Joestar Posted 7 July 2013 16:36

    “Authoritarian reaction: Spanks the child, saying "You know better than to hit!"”

    Too bad the authoritarian parent doesn’t.

  • Lori Patterson Posted 1 May 2014 9:25

    Personally I think it takes a combination of all three parenting styles, with love and attachment being at the centre. I do not believe in spanking a child for hitting or pretty much anything with the exception of a child for whom learning not run pull away and run onto the road isn't resonnating, a one time tap on the bum might save his/her life. Possitive reinforcement works well, but being a mother of 4 and now raising my grandson aswell as running a home day care, every child is different and responds differently to various parenting. The most important thing is to be as "hands on" parent. Plopping your child in front of the tv all day, but then expecting them to behave well when you go out for dinner is absurd. Invest in the little life you created, you are the most influential being in his or her life.

  • Anonymous Posted 22 October 2014 8:08

    Great article! I do think this is a common misconception. I've linked to this article from my blog, as my theme for the next few weeks is positive discipline. http://gooddayswithkids.com/2014/10/20/positive-is-not-permissive/

  • Seamus Curtain-Magee Posted 30 October 2014 17:45

    After reading this article this happened at home: http://wp.me/p41okV-uT, so I just wanted yo say a brief thank you for helping me get back on track. I'd been having a bit of a shouty week with the kids, and it wasn't helping anyone.

  • Unknown Posted 3 November 2015 9:53

    I think in the example, what is used is called a "time in" where the parent stays with the child, gives the child support and love, while still telling the child not to hit.

  • Batesey PM Posted 25 April 2016 10:55

    Thank you, the examples really do help. My husband and I are often lost trying to handle situations in a positive parenting manner and it's the examples that really help

  • john Posted 16 May 2016 10:20

    Great post, you have pointed out some fantastic points , I likewise think this s a very wonderful website.

  • Lizzie H Posted 12 June 2016 14:22

    I really enjoyed this article especially for the clear description you give about how each parenting style will react to different scenarios. All of your examples, however, involve younger children. Do you have any specific examples for parents of pre-teens and young teenagers? Do you recommend any excellent resources for parents of this age group who are wanting to positively parent their children? Thank you.

Comments are closed.