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Are Gentle and Permissive Parenting the Same?

There are so many different ways to parent your child, and so many names out there to accompany those ways- gentle, conscious, permissive, traditional, respectful, etc. I want to clear up a little confusion for you today by describing the three main styles of parenting, and what each looks like.

The three main parenting styles are power over, power under and power with. Keep in mind that these parenting styles fall on a spectrum, and oftentimes parents slide up and down that spectrum through their parenting journey. The way that we parent our children can come from multiple factors: the way we were raised, the cycles we wish to break, the research we do, or the advice we hear. Regardless of the reason we choose to parent the way we do, I think it’s important to remember the potential outcomes on ourselves and our children of each type of parenting. As you read through these parenting styles, I invite you to ask yourself this question: do I want blind compliance without a connected relationship with my child; OR do I want cooperation that honors my relationship with my child? Consider what is most important to you about your relationship with your child, and build your parenting style from there.

Power over parenting is also known as authoritative or traditional parenting. These parents have the belief that children should do as they’re told simply because the parent holds the authority over the child. Most of the time these parents use fear-based approaches to gain compliance from their children such as taking toys away, isolating kids by sending them to time out, and verbally or physically harming their child. These parents often lack the tools and support necessary to parent any other way, and feel as though if they were raised this way and “turned out fine”, then their child will also. Typically when parents utilize the power over methods such as control, threats, and punishment, they are responding from high stress, and this is the only way they are able to meet their needs. A common theme I’ve noticed when talking to parents who are stuck in this traditional style of parenting, is that they don’t feel good when they practice authority over their children and oftentimes their relationship with their children suffers. A lack of warmth and understanding exists between the parent and their child, and there is a constant disconnect between the two.

Examples of what these parents might say:

  • “If you don’t clean up your toys right now, I’m taking your screen time away for the rest of the week!”

  • “Screen time is over; turn it off now because I said so.”

Power under parenting is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It is also known as permissive parenting, and is often confused with gentle parenting. In the power under paradigm, parents often feel overwhelmed and burdened by the responsibility of being the leader of the household. In turn, they avoid conflict at all costs which often leads to the child making decisions and “running the show”. These parents lack clarity in their boundaries, and are unable to enforce limits that they set. In addition, conflict puts them into a freeze mode, where they shut down or retreat so as to say “I am not in charge here”. Typically permissive parents come from very authoritarian backgrounds and by practicing permissiveness, they believe they are breaking cycles and allowing for a better upbringing for their children. However, without boundaries and clear structure, children are unable to thrive and develop appropriately.

Examples of what these parents might say:

  • “Why do you have to whine all the time? Here, just take what you want.”

  • “You’re crying because screen time is over; but, we agreed on an amount of time. Fine, just watch however long you want.”

Power with parenting has many names: gentle, conscious, respectful, peaceful parenting etc. This way of parenting is not foreign to humankind, and is not a new way of parenting. Gentle parents believe that they have just as much to learn from their children as their children have to learn from them. These parents meet their kids where they are at emotionally and developmentally, and hold space for who the child is meant to be. These parents don’t believe that they own their children; rather, they believe that the parent and child are on a journey together, and the parent has the opportunity to guide and coach the child on their journey. The parent is no more and no less powerful than their child; instead, the parent and child work together to create and enforce boundaries, emotional intelligence, and the parent child relationship. This way of parenting is challenging and requires daily work. There are constant check-ins, repairs, and tweaking to ensure that the parent is rearing the child in a way that aligns with their values and beliefs. The parent honors the relationship built with their child, and in turn respects the child as early as infancy.

Examples of what these parents might say:

  • “Your toys need to be cleaned up before bed. How about I help you put them away?”

  • “Your screen time is over; it has been 20 minutes. I hear that you want to finish your show and it will be over in 5 minutes. Do you want to finish your show today and have 5 minutes less of screen time tomorrow, or finish your show right when screen time starts tomorrow?”

I’d love to dig deeper into this material with you, especially if you’re practicing one parenting style and longing for a change. Comment below with any questions you might have, or click here to book a free 30-min call with me so we can discuss how I can support you in your parenting journey. Regardless of your upbringing or the parenting style you practice now, I know that you are doing the best you can with the information you have available to you. This is a no judgment zone, and I promise to always meet you where you are at.

Thanks for reading,


TLDR: Here’s a simplified chart outlining the three main types of parenting.

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