The Accidentally Permissive Parent

The Accidentally Permissive Parent

Feb 28, 2024

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Parenting culture in the US has come a long way in terms of recognizing and validating our kids' emotions. And at the same time, we’re seeing more instances of the “accidentally permissive parent”.

When I first became a parent coach, I talked a lot with moms about how feelings matter. Over the past 15 years, I’ve seen a shift. Now there's a lot of awareness about emotions and validation, but I find myself talking more and more about how important it is to have consequences and teach kids that their behavior has an impact.


Why Permissive Parenting Happens

In a recent study of parents who were practicing gentle parenting principles, 40% said that they actually don't know what they're doing.

Many of these parents have values around staying calm during a conflict, not yelling, identifying and naming their child’s emotions and trying to help their kid cope with those emotions. 

They’re trying to break cycles of shame and punishment and pain. 

This is amazing and beautiful. But it is incomplete, because they don’t know what to do with the misbehavior. There isn’t really language around setting limits or having consequences. 

This confusion over, “Ok, I validated their emotion. Now what?” is why I teach the limit setting formula and the concept of restitution. 

When you’re calm and you put limits, consequences and connection all together, you are teaching your child how to integrate all the parts of their brain. It’s a complete parenting model. 

Over time, you end up with an emotionally healthy person who knows how to manage their feelings in ways that work for them and others. That is our goal. 


How to Avoid Being an Accidentally Permissive Parent

Many moms who are interested in gentle parenting (also called compassionate or nonviolent parenting) are familiar with the first two steps of the Calm Mama Process: Calm and Connect.

In CALM, you regulate your own emotions. This might include healing from past trauma and definitely includes managing your stress levels. In CONNECT, we name, validate and emotionally coach our kids through their Big Feeling Cycles.

I believe we need to take connection a step further, and help our kids manage their big feelings within limits.

When your kid is struggling with a big feeling, you might feel like you can't set a boundary. You might want to let the misbehavior go because they’re already upset. You don’t want to bring on more big feelings by dealing with the misbehavior. 

You can be firm while still recognizing your kid’s feelings. In a situation where a kid is throwing things or hitting, this might look like The Hard No. “Everyone stays safe here. You can have your big feelings, but you cannot hit me.”


LIMIT SET is the third step. Here, you set clear limits and what your child may do (or what you’re willing to do), and hold your boundaries. 

For example, you tell your child they can play outside after they’ve finished their homework. They aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, and time’s up. We’re not going to play outside. 

When you hold a limit, your kid is going to have feelings about it. They’re going to be uncomfortable, disappointed, mad or sad. 

When your kid is upset because you’re holding firm to your limit, they might try to negotiate with you to get what they want. If you can hold the line and let them struggle a little bit, they will find a way to move through the emotion. 


Finally, we CORRECT any misbehavior that happened. When your kid makes a mistake, they fix it. Consequences don’t have to involve pain and shame. You can practice empathy and compassion while following through with a consequence. 

Consequences are not about threats or fear. It’s about teaching our kids to think through their actions and the result of those actions. To recognize when their behavior has caused a problem for someone else and fix their own mistakes. 

It takes a long time to parent a child to become an adult. So we bring in small ways to show them that their behavior has an impact. “Hitting your brother causes a problem. Here’s how you can fix it.” “Not cleaning up your toys causes a problem. Here’s how you can fix it.” 

You might be thinking, “Darlynn, this sounds like an awful lot of work.” And you’re right. 

It can be exhausting to always ride every emotion out with your kids. And you don't have to. If you spend all your time emotionally coaching your kid, you’ll never get anything else done. 

I want you to know that it’s okay for our kids to process their negative emotions alone sometimes. It's okay for them to process their negative emotions with someone else. 

Not every meltdown or big feeling needs to be evaluated and discussed. You also don't have to attend every Big Feeling Cycle that you're invited to. Sometimes, we have to move on with our day.

This isn’t about you doing something to make your kid feel differently. It's about acknowledging the emotion and letting your kid learn for themselves that they can handle it. You can be empathetic and also trust that your kid can handle the feeling. 

The good news is that the more you practice limit setting with connection, the better and faster your kid will be able to move through their negative emotion. 

Ready to go deeper and learn the strategies and tools to raise an emotionally healthy kid, tween or teen? Check out my upcoming programs at


You’ll Learn:

  • Why gentle parenting information is often incomplete
  • Why it’s not enough just to stop yelling and talk about feelings
  • How we experience real-life consequences as adults (and how we can use it as a model for parenting)
  • How to protect your energy



Ready to stop yelling?

Get the one simple tool you need to stop yelling at your kids, so you finally feel calmer and connect better. 

You'll learn why you yell, how to stop yourself yelling, 40 things to do instead and scripts for what to say to your kid when you yell.


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