Oh, oh, oh those parenting doubts.
Did you ever guess there would be so many?
Some days can feel like a revolving series of second-guessing, ‘comparisonitis’, changing tack, and rewriting the rulebook. Are you too soft? Too harsh? Too permissive? Too authoritarian? Do you flip back and forth between them?
At Hand in Hand, we say it's great to experiment. Be parent-explorers! Boldly forging ahead and figuring out what your kids best respond to and dropping what doesn't, or at least leaving it for another time.
But some days it takes everything you have to stay the course, doesn't it? Especially when you aren't parenting the same way your family did or doing what your friends do. (Especially if they call you out for being too soft or even permissive).
So, is this approach permissive?
When you are doing your best to be a kinder, more empathetic parent. When you have banished time-outs to their own time out.
The doubts! They creep in and drain all your joy and energy.
One question we often hear from parents who begin using the Hand in Hand approach to setting limits is:
Am I being too permissive?
It CAN feel that way.
Often the doubt floats up during the wait and listen phase.
(Otherwise known as the part where your child may let out a stream of harsh words and big feelings.)
To any casual onlooker, this may look like you handed your child all the power. Like you let them disrespect and insult you.
But you know better. Right?
Do you remember the key to effective limit setting?
Rewind a little.
Remember, the key to setting limits is to do it early. That means the first or at most, second time you see your child heading off-track.
Like when you fulfil a request but it still isn't right for them, or your child does something they know is not acceptable in your house. Perhaps you see them leering over a pet or a sibling, or sneak something off limits.
That's where your choice occurs. To intervene and set a limit, or just let it go.
Go one way, you choose the authoritative path.
Go another, you veer into permissive parenting.
What actually is permissive or not? And what’s not?
There it is. The million dollar question.
Parenting gets permissive when you let that behavior continue despite it not being in line with your values.
- When you hope that it just goes away
- When you ask politely again and again for your child to stop teasing the cat or taking more candy
- When you barter or bribe to stop a behavior
If you find yourself in an endless cycle where you are begging or cajoling and the behavior continues, that IS permissive.
And guess what?
If you are exhausted or burned out, this could be why
It’s one way to burn out very quickly in parenting.
You lose truckloads of energy when you let off-track behavior continue.
Doubts form in your mind. Your own needs go unmet. And your child?
When you can hold it in your mind that their behavior is a signal they are struggling and that they need you to move in, you guide them well.
Moving in early and stopping the behavior gives your child time to release the pent up feelings that drive their challenging behavior.
When they have room to shed their feelings in laughter or upset, the behavior gets better.
That gives you a little extra time and space too.
This way of setting limits is decisive, it’s connecting, it’s helpful for your child.
What isn’t it?
Want more on this? This post shares how to decide if setting a limit is necessary.
Moving in early is easier on you all in the long-run
We hope you feel a little more at ease now. If anyone asks, you can tell them with full confidence that Hand in Hand is an authoritative parenting approach.
Still, knowing how to set limits and actually setting them is a whole different ball game.
There are many reasons for this. Maybe you have grown used to tolerating demanding behavior. Maybe you already feel burned out or like you have tried everything under the sun to get to grips with your child’s behavior. Yet it only seems to get worse.
There's two notable reasons why setting a limit early is easier on you all.
What happens when challenging behavior is ignored?
First, ask yourself how things usually end when behavior gets ignored? Does it actually go away? No. What happens is that it escalates. The whining gets louder and more persistent. Your child chases the cat until it scratches. Your kids' bickering becomes screams and physical fighting. Your child's empty expression as they keep scrolling the screen annoys you more and more.
Does that feel easy to handle?
And what happens to you all the time this is going on? You may stay out of the way and hide, but the doubts in your head mount: Do you have bad kids? Why do they always behave like this? The questions crowd in: When should you step in? And how?
All of a sudden you have a big situation to deal with. You have a billion triggers firing off in your mind. You are at your weakest and your child's emotions are at their strongest.
No wonder parents feel powerless at this point.
Are you still begging your child to stop their behavior?
When limit setting feels hard, it can help to have a plan. This week, why not think about when challenging behavior often breaks out in your house?
Think about how you can move in early.
Remember, it's often easier to be playful when you move in early because you aren't yet as triggered by the behavior.
For instance, if your child picks up a screen at a time they know it's not allowed, move close, ask them to put down the screen and then if they resist, pretend to use them as a comfy cushion. Gently and playfully “pick them” to sit on.
You respond then, to their deep need. Their real need behind the behavior: a minute or two of your warm connection.
If your child is complaining about the plate you gave them, ask them what plate they want and play with that idea.
“The green plate? You wanted the green plate? But that's MY plate.”
See if you can play with the plate. If they “win” the green plate, you haven't been permissive. You met their real need.
Remember, they really only complained about the plate because they wanted your warm, loving attention.
When you played with the plate, they got that.
Get more on this: Discover what to do if play doesn't work when your child really wants their way in this post.
Why does this feel permissive?
It's easy to feel that responding like this is permissive, because adults forget how important connection and playfulness is to kids. Also, our adult lives are so devoid of it that it gets hard to give.
But ask yourself.
Isn't this less draining than doling out permissions and punishment? Isn't this easier than breaking up a fight?
We believe it is. And because you respond to that core need of your child's to be seen, you will find that your lives together become easier. When you step in early and consistently with a limit, you give them a reliable framework and regular moments of connection.
Try to be kind to yourself as you practice this way of setting limits in your parenting. Congratulate yourself every time you step in early. If it's incredibly hard, think about why that might be. Where do you get the resistance and does this feel familiar in any way?
You’ll shrug off powerlessness and still feel closer to your child.