What is peaceful parenting? In short, peaceful parents lead their children with the good of the relationship in mind. It means they prioritize connection over control; peace over punishment; mutual respect over rigid rules.
Critics of peaceful parenting say, however, that it's too permissive. They believe a child's behavior needs to be controlled through harsh discipline, and that gentle guidance will leave children floundering.
At best, they say peaceful parenting is maybe alright for highly sensitive children, but that "most children" need a stronger approach.
Is there any truth to the critics' claims? Here's what the research says.
The peaceful parenting philosophy is sometimes mistaken for permissive parenting
Many people believe that the peaceful parenting approach doesn't set limits, or the few limits that are set are rarely enforced. They say the peaceful parent is "coddling" their kids and that this parenting approach only sets children up to fail. They warn that children aren't prepared for the "real world."
They claim that peaceful parenting is just a permissive approach where the child never learns about taking responsibility. They say parents (along with the whole family) end up suffering from this unstructured lack of leadership over their children's lives.
This couldn't be farther from the truth.
Understanding the hallmarks of permissive parenting
Before we compare peaceful parenting to permissiveness, let's define the permissive approach to raising children and unpack its risks.
The permissive parenting style is "also referred to as 'indulgent parenting.' It’s characterized by high levels of warmth from the parent, but low levels of structure and discipline." (source)
In practical terms, it often looks like the parent who loves their children dearly but is so afraid of losing that love that they'll do nearly anything to avoid even minor conflict with them. It can often feel to the child that the parent wants to be only their friend but doesn't want to--or perhaps doesn't know how--to provide guidance when needed.
To be clear, there's an outdated belief that we shouldn't be our children's friends. The reality is that we want to like each other, just like friends do.
Parenting needs to be more than just friendship, though. If we take the "I'm only my child's friend" perspective too far, it morphs into permissive parenting.
This parenting style is associated with significant risks:
"...Studies have found links between permissive parenting and increased alcohol use among teenagers as well as higher rates of school misconduct and lower levels of academic achievement...Children are impulsive, aggressive and lack independence as well as personal responsibility, mainly due to the huge lack of boundaries. They can have symptoms of anxiety and depression. (source)
"...Children raised in this parenting style can develop low self-confidence and may exhibit aggressive behavior. They may have diminished self-regulation skills and may appear self-centered, difficult, and impetuous. (source)
"...kids brought up in this style often develop relationships marked by social aggression and the effects of growing up with less discipline can have long-term effects on building positive relationships with others. (source)
If you're tempted to parent this way, know that increasing your self-discipline and benevolent leadership is possible, and you can still have a great relationship with your child.
6 Ways Peaceful Parenting Differs From Permissiveness
Peaceful parenting is less about raising "happy kids" without conflict, although raising children who know how to love their lives is certainly important.
More accurately, peaceful parenting means that we create a family life built on healthy and effective communication. We have lots of empathy for each other's unique experiences and perspectives, and open lines to understanding what our children need to thrive--above and beyond just making them "happy."
As part of that, parents model self-regulation, knowing that a child's ability to self-regulate doesn't happen until many years of co-regulating alongside us. Emotional maturity and emotional regulation take time, and having a strong relationship with family helps make these life skills more accessible to children.
In other words, the peaceful parent isn't afraid of feelings--theirs or their children's. Here are some of the other key differences:
Peaceful parents believe in non-punitive consequences and are committed to teaching children respectfully.
Consequences and accountability definitely exist in peaceful parenting. The paradigm shift is that we remember that discipline means "to teach," not "to punish." A peaceful parent is more likely to lean on natural and logical consequences rather than punitive ones.
Peaceful parents are also likely to validate the child's perspective, keeping their child's experience separate from their own emotions about the topic at hand.
"I see how much you want a smartphone. It makes sense because you see us, as adults, on our phones a lot, and you know they can be intriguing. I can see why you'd be interested in having one for yourself."
Note that in this example, the adult doesn't give in and get the child a phone, but they do respectfully validate what the child is feeling. They're not dismissive, either--while validating, they're willing to support the child's potential big feelings.
The peaceful parent does understand the importance of healthy boundaries.
Boundaries exist in peaceful parenting. In fact, they're important for raising kids, not only for their physical health but also for their emotional well-being. According to the University of Michigan:
"... Setting boundaries and expectations for children can assist in building life skills that include patience, problem-solving, resourcefulness, responsibility and self-discipline..." (source)
To be clear, the most effective boundaries tend to be co-created between parent and child rather than only delegated by the parent. The parent realizes that the child's input matters and they'll be more likely to adhere to the boundary if they feel they've had a say in it.
Of course, little kids will need more guidance than older children. You'll read more about collaboration later in this article.
"We're not getting you a smartphone yet, but when the time comes for you to have one, we'll make sure you know how to be safe on it. I've heard there are some non-Internet phones that kids can use in emergencies. I wonder if that would be a good interim step. What do you think?"
Peaceful parenting is associated with positive outcomes.
According to research from UC-Davis, being a positive, peaceful parent is linked with only positive outcomes, unlike permissive parenting. For example:
"...Peaceful parenting helps children succeed in measurable ways
Research shows that positive parenting helps children do better in school, have fewer behavioral problems, and have stronger mental health...
"...It's not just for little kids -- peaceful parenting also helps the teenage brain
Neuroscientists discovered that positive parenting contributes to better functioning in the brain regions associated with emotions and cognition during the teen years..."
"...Positive parenting is linked to a happy and healthy adulthood
Harvard scientists found that positive parenting has long-term benefits, including better relationships, mental health, and well-being during adulthood..."
In peaceful parenting, adults model healthy ways to communicate their own feelings--while growing their children's emotional intelligence.
Whereas permissive parents may do whatever it takes to avoid a power struggle, the peaceful parent accepts that conflict can be a normal and healthy part of raising children.
Better, even peaceful parenting doesn't require power struggles because of this paradigm shift: It's not parent versus child; it's parent and child together against whatever problem they're working to solve.
The peaceful parenting philosophy embraces the tenets of non-violent communication, whereby we find ways to express our own emotions in ways that do no harm to our children or our relationship with them.
Non-violent communication (NVC) means this:
"...NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others respectful and empathic attention..."
"...As NVC replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimized. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion..." (source)
Non-violent communication isn't "weak" or "wishy-washy"
On the contrary, peaceful parenting through non-violent communication is incredibly disciplined work. It requires a level of mindfulness and regular use of practical tools that truly change the way we relate to one another.
In peaceful parenting, adults better emulate unconditional love.
Certainly, all parents are capable of feeling unconditional love for their children. However, permissive parents often carry wounds from their own childhood that make their children's "big emotions" feel overwhelming to them.
As such, they may shy away from "showing up" when the child's behavior gets loud or uncomfortable to them. In doing so, they may inadvertently show their children that calm communication is the only way to express feelings.
Although peaceful parents certainly strive to be calm, it comes from a place of self-awareness and self-control, rather than a nervous system response that shuts down at the first sign of conflict.
When they shut down, they may inadvertently model that only certain behaviors are "allowable" for the child to receive love and support, rather than teaching problem-solving skills after a moment of chaos with their children.
Children learn whether their big emotions are "safe" with us when we foster collaboration even amidst tough situations. When they believe, through our actions, that we love and accept them--including the difficult and messy parts of being human--the child's brain realizes that we accept and love every part of them.
Parents realize parenting isn't about us--it's about our dynamic with our children.
Often, parents who are permissive are so caught up in "not rocking the boat" that they let their own emotions get in the way of what our children's brains are needing to thrive--namely, our calm and consistent, compassion-based leadership.
In addition to our leadership, children also need our partnership. This harkens back to the idea that we're working alongside our children to solve problems, knowing families thrive best when we work together.
Peaceful parents welcome their children's ideas, emotions, and perspectives even in the midst of adversity. Rather than imposing rules unilaterally, we value and take their input to heart whenever possible.
Although many parents are afraid to do this kind of "partnership" in parenting (or perhaps they're skeptical of it), it can make a huge difference in helping the child feel seen and valued.
At the same time, because it's a partnership and not a "child-in-charge" situation, the parent can compassionately set limits and get their own needs met, as well.
Unlike many other parenting methods, peaceful parenting is not a win/lose scenario where either the parent or the child comes out ahead. It's where we choose to start connecting rather than constantly correcting our child's behavior.
Instead of parenting from fear, we parent from a place of healthy empowerment.
Basic tenets of this parenting style
Peaceful parenting means adults take the time to learn what's normal in child development and understand that a child's behavior (positive or negative) is simply a reflection of what they're feeling on the inside. As the adage goes, all behavior is communication.
Peaceful parenting advocates for understanding your own emotions so that you can model healthy emotional expression for your children, knowing children learn best by what you actually do, not just what you tell them to do.
Learning to use Peaceful Discipline helps parents increase their understanding, and empathy for their children, explaining the neuroscience behind how emotional regulation, compassion, and resilience develop in children.
It also helps parents learn how to manage their own triggers and remain calm and emotionally regulated even when they are feeling angry, while still being authentic (no, it's not an oxymoron--it's actually possible). Learning how to parent this way helps both children and adults because children learn best by watching the behaviors we model for them.
Guest Post By: Sarah Moore of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting