What is the difference between a loving parent and a permissive parent?

“If we are so loving towards our kids, won't they sit on our head?” 

This is a question parents often ask, when they hear about parenting with connection and empathy. We believe, that if we are gentle or caring our children will get “spoilt” and not learn to be disciplined. And, because of this belief, when we correct a child we think it must be done with authority and harshness. How else will the child learn the right thing? 


To understand this better let us look at some scenarios. 

Scenario 1: A child is running around in the restaurant disturbing everyone. The parent says to the child, “You better stop this right now!” The child ignores the parent and continues running around. The parent then says, “If you don't sit down right now I am going to give you one whack.” There is still no response from the child. The parent then grabs the child and smacks her. She cries bitterly. The family outing is ruined. This is authoritarian parenting. 


Scenario 2: The child is running around the restaurant. The parent starts pleading with the child, “Kanna ...please stop running around. Come and sit here.” The child ignores the parent. The parent feels its ok, after all she is just a child. So, although the child is disturbing others, after a few attempts to persuade the child the parent does nothing. Others in the restaurant feel their peace is ruined! This is permissive parenting 


Is there no other option where the child can be taught or guided in a way that is respectful to the child and also to others who are in the restaurant? 


Scenario 3: The child is running around and the parent says to the child, “I can see that you are really finding it hard to sit in one place. The child replies, “Yes I want to run.” The parent says, “You know, a lot of people are getting disturbed with your running, so it's important you sit in one place. Here, can we draw something on this paper napkin?” This may or may not work. If it does work then its fine. If it doesn't, then the parent tells the child in a firm tone, ‘I cannot allow you to run around here. If you want to run we need to go outside. In a restaurant we have to sit.” The child may comply. If not, what else can the parent do if the behaviour continues? The parent says in a warm yet firm tone, ‘Kanna, I can see that today sitting in one place is really hard for you. And, we cannot disturb others so I think we need to go home.” He or she picks up the child and leaves the restaurant. 


Yes, this is difficult choice but it has many benefits. Being loving towards a child does not mean allowing a child to do anything they want. That is being permissive. And being permissive harms a child. But being loving does not. The child has not been spoken to harshly. She still feels the parents care and they did understand her need to run. Of course, she will protest and be most upset about leaving but she also has got the message that there are clear rules which need to be followed. And if they are not followed, there is firm but loving adult to help you understand the rules. This way of parenting makes the child feel respected and connected to the parent and will lead to greater cooperation in the long run. 

Children do not really learn much from harshness and authority since they end up feeling sorry for themselves and thinking “Amma or Appa are so mean”.  


So, yes, it’s Ok to be caring and sensitive to our children at all times, and especially when we are saying “No” and enforcing rules and limits.  Being disciplined with empathy helps children think, feel loved and builds their confidence. 


Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.