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‘Passive’ or ‘Permissive’ Parenting or Practice? Probably Not…

Most people who know me know that I am not a fan of most ‘behaviour management’ systems.
It doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of regulated behaviour.

Experiencing a feeling, but choosing not to act on is one of the most important skills our children need- for life- that, IMO, we should be fostering much more proactively than we are (we’d certainly have a smaller prison population if we did).

And herein lies the quandary of ‘control’…
Often, when (or even before) a child loses self-control, an adult steps in to assert their own.

But to what extent does this teach a child self-regulation skills, and is there another way?

What got me thinking about all this was an episode at the weekend, when my 8 year old got cross with me and told me he wasn’t ever going to speak to me again.

Like most of us, my instinct was to leap straight in with ‘discipline’, but a more measured part of me knew this would just add fuel to the fire.
So – although I don’t always manage to stay composed myself – on this occasion, I didn’t react. 

And, even though there’s something about this lack of correction that can feel permissive; like ‘letting children get away with it‘;  instead of conflict and unpleasantness, after a few minutes alone, we were both recovered and back to normal.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t address these occurrences; we should.
It’s just that at the time is rarely ‘the time’.

And until the ‘right time’ arrives, it’s worth remembering that these episodes are rarely personal. They’re usually just a child expressing -albeit, fairly inarticulately – that they’re struggling with a big feeling right then.

And; as long as we allow them some breathing space; they don’t tend to last.
Ultimately it’s about allowing them to feel whatever they feel.

That’s not the same as ‘you can behave however you want’, but when they’re overwhelmed by big emotions; such as anger, frustration, hurt, embarrassment; children (and adults too, because the same thing happens to us) can’t be expected to make ‘good choices’.

Emotional overwhelm hijacks the ‘pre-frontal cortex’ (PFC), the part of the brain referred to as its CEO or the ‘conductor of the orchestra’, with very good reason.
This means children can’t plug into empathy or anticipate consequence well or plan a more ‘appropriate response’ right then.

So, as the grown-ups in their lives, our challenge (and it isn’t always easy, or even possible) is to keep our own PFC online so we can do the child’s thinking for them;

🧠 This child is reacting, not thinking, so they can’t work out;

❌ What’s going on right now

 What they’re feeling right now

 What anyone else is feeling right now

 What the consequence might be

When we give frayed brains time to compose themselves (including our own if needed!), brain chemistry balances out, thinking capacity comes back online…
And then is the time to start the conversation about handling the situation better.
The child might have even began working that out themselves by then.

We don’t have to give young people permission to behave however they want, but we can (I would argue we must) give them ‘permission to feel whatever they feel’.

It’s a long game, but it lays the foundation for them to learn to recognise and to express their emotions appropriately, when they’re ready.

That’s not ‘permissive’; it’s how we raise a generation of emotionally intelligent children.

2 thoughts on “‘Passive’ or ‘Permissive’ Parenting or Practice? Probably Not…

  1. Reading this has reminded me of those core principles I learnt during the toddler years of “big emotions” and how now I need to apply them to a 10 and 8 year old too. For some reason I found it easier to ignore big emotions and cuddle our way through toddler tantrums. It’s all about the evolution though isn’t it. Thanks Jo I needed this little reminder xx

    1. Thanks for your comment. As our children get older it can be easier for us to assume they have the skills and awareness to understand and manage those big emotions; their bodies tell a different story to their brains, because their physically they follow a straight trajectory, whereas emotionally they’re very inconsistent. Acceptance, at whatever age, is so important. It takes so much of the resistance out of the equation. Instead of spending our energies being our kids’ opponent; trying to ‘win’ the power-struggle, we get on their side and work with them! It’s so much healthier, for us as well as them.

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