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From Helicopters to Elephants – What Kind of a Parent Are You?

October 6, 2021
by Chelsy

From Helicopters to Elephants – What Kind of a Parent Are You?

By Chelsy
October 6, 2021

No role on this planet carries with it more pressure and expectation than that of a parent.

How we raise our children determines every aspect of their development, from the strength of their self-confidence to the extent of their success.

It’s possible that you have never attempted to define your own parenting style, but you’ve read likely plenty about these parenting “labels” such as helicopter parenting or, more recently, snowplow parenting.

What does it all mean? How important are these labels?

While it is not vital to the success of your child’s upbringing to slap a label on yourself, knowing how your parenting style (or combination of styles) affects your child can be crucial in better shaping the future of their lives.

So, what kind of parent are you?

The Helicopter Parent

Wait! I’ll tie your shoes for youuuu!!!

Coined in 1969 in Dr. Haim G. Ginott’s book Between Parent and Teenager, this term has become synonymous with parents who hover over their children.

They are over-protective and focus on preventing consequences by protecting their children from hurt and disappointment.

Children of helicopter parents do not learn from challenges, mistakes, and failures. Instead, they are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of growing up.

According to studies, these children also have a harder time managing their emotions and behaviors.

While not experiencing disappointment and failure may cause a sense of entitlement, having everything done for them means that these children are not given a chance to build confidence. This may result in low self-esteem and high anxiety.

Helicopter parents need to let their kids fail and let them do things for themselves. Our job as parents is to guide our children through feelings of frustration and disappointment as well as difficult tasks.

The keyword here is “guide” not “do for”. Think of a coach that trains a sports team – they teach their team how to play but they don’t play the game for them.

The Tiger Parent

This is a fairly new term introduced by author Amy Chua in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

She describes tiger parenting as a parenting style that involves pressure on the child to attain high levels of academic success or recognition in extracurricular activities.

These parents maintain strict rules and a “tough love” approach to ensuring achievement. This pressure causes these children to become overly critical of themselves, which then leads to issues with anxiety and depression.

Children need support and warmth and caring. Their emotions need to be nurtured as much as, if not more than, their brains need to be trained.

Children should not be shamed or compared to others who are more successful. They need to be encouraged to succeed and intrinsically motivated to do so.

The Free-Range Parent

Run free, my little one!

Imagine free-range chickens and this basically encompasses the idea of this parenting style. Free-range parents are those that allow their children to play alone out in the world.

They maintain a loose routine with few scheduled activities.

While this may seem like the perfect recipe for developing strong and independent children, it can also be dangerous depending on the age of the child.

There are laws that dictate at what age a child can be left unsupervised, inside and outside the home, and for good reasons.

This parenting style also involves less parental involvement, which could border on neglect in some cases. While these children may appear physically independent, they may not have their emotional needs met.

Free-range parents should employ more caution when it comes to the whereabouts of their child. Establishing curfews and a means of communication can help ensure that children are safe.

Emotional needs can be met by paying attention to a child’s activities and taking an active interest in their passions.

The Narcissistic Parent

By definition, a narcissist is an individual that thinks only of themselves and their own self-preservation. They are willing to hurt, destroy and manipulate in order to continue doing so.

The child of a narcissist is not safe from the narcissist’s sense of entitlement and importance.

Narcissistic parents will often attach themselves to their children in a possessive way, often using them as personal puppets to live out unrealized dreams.

They are also threatened by their child’s growing independence and often maintain their superiority through put-downs, manipulation, and other forms of emotional abuse. It’s sad, but they rarely love their children for who they are.

Narcissistic parents will never admit that they are narcissistic (because, in their perception, they are perfect).

However, children of narcissistic parents need a safe environment where they can be honest and feel supported.

They should never be made to feel that their narcissistic parent is a villain, but the reality of the situation should not be swept under the rug either. Issues should be approached directly and in an age-appropriate manner.

The Snowplow Parent

Amidst the recent college scam happening in the US, this new term has come to the forefront of recently discussed parenting styles.

Snowplow parents clear obstacles from their child’s path while pressuring them to achieve. It’s a sort of combination between helicopter parenting and tiger parenting – the pressure is there to succeed, but there are no challenges along the way.

Children of snowplow parents typically lack independence and have very limited interests and passions. They do not learn the value of hard work and have no skills to deal with failure.

“What builds real self-esteem is competence, which is confidence based on actual experience.”

The above quote comes from educator Jessica Lahey and author of the book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.

If children are not given the opportunity to experience challenges, they will never develop the confidence necessary for healthy self-esteem.

Instead of telling a child how to fix their problems, or fixing them for their children, parents need to help guide their children through the issue.

Advice given in the form of suggestions is a great way to help guide a child to their own solution. Advice should never be forced or imposed on a child’s issue.

The Elephant Parent

Not all parenting styles involve such detrimental parenting habits.

Elephant parenting, for example, is a parenting style also known as “attachment parenting”. These parents nurture their connection with their children and respond to them with sensitivity and positive discipline.

This, in turn, creates secure, independent, and empathetic children. However, this style of parenting may be excessively permissive.

Elephant parents may find it hard to say “no” to their children or set boundaries.

A child’s life must contain rules and boundaries – their development thrives on routine.

While an environment of connection and security is beneficial to a child, they still need guidelines in order to teach them how to navigate disappointment and conflict.

The Holistic Parent

Holistic parents accept their children fully and completely. They respect their child’s individuality and give them space to develop their own beliefs.

They care for the emotional, physical, and spiritual development of their child. Holistic parents focus on healthy living, deep connections, and self-care.

Children are better equipped to deal with negative emotions because they are aware of how they feel and they are taught how to cope with those feelings.

Being a holistic parent does not necessarily define a lifestyle of “all-natural” and “organic” living. While this can certainly be a part of holistic living, the two are not mutually inclusive.

Holistic living simply refers to the recognition that the mind, body, and soul work in harmony and the state of one can affect the state of all.

It’s easy to feel pressured into a certain way of life in order to uphold the holistic parenting style – you should meditate with your child every day, you should eat plant-based foods, you should burn incense – but there is no need to adopt lifestyle habits that do not align with a family’s preferences and beliefs.

Many holistic families, mine included, eat bread and vaccinate their children.

So What Kind of Parent Are You?

To be honest, you could very well be a little bit of all of them. Parenting can’t be pigeon-holed into one particular style – our parenting skills are fluid and ever-changing. As our children grow, we adapt our style to their needs.

But these terms didn’t come from nowhere, so there’s a chance you may lean more toward one parenting style camp than the others.

Again, you may very well borrow techniques and habits from more than one style.

If this is true for you, consider the impact (positive or negative) your actions and expectations may have on your child.

While the joy of raising a child is the love they bring into your life, the focus should be on preparing them for the big scary world.

How you raise your child will determine how successful they are in their future.

Let me know in the comments below: What kind of parent are you?


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