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Tigers in Helicopters: Parenting Styles

Written by Patrick Quigley, March 31, 2022

Parenting is a life skill no one ever really teaches you. It´s something you learn, if you´re lucky, from your own mother and father or pick up along the way from a variety of sources, not least trial and error. The interesting thing is that no matter how hard you try, you can never get it right. No one is a perfect parent and the goalposts shift constantly. I am the father of homeschooled 8-year-old and 6-year-old daughters. Over the years I´ve watched other parents experiment with different styles trying to mold my kids into happy, positive beings with a growth mindset. I now have some solid ideas about how I parent and my twenty years teaching kids in many diverse countries has definitely helped me to become a better dad. My tactics change from time to time but for now, the fundamentals seem to work, some of the time at least.

The other day I asked my young daughters to move a table and four chairs from a shaded area in the garden to a sunnier spot. The furniture was heavy and cumbersome and they were groaning and moaning as they worked out how to complete the task. My wife saw them trying to move the table and went to help them but I intercepted her and asked her to let the kids try to work it out for themselves. I was watching the youngsters collaborate, analyze the situation, persevere and problem solve. I was observing their decision-making skills and critical and creative thinking as well as time management skills and their forays into effective communication. My wife was being motherly. Both parenting traits have pros and cons. I like to allow the kids to work stuff out for themselves, be independent, and learn from their mistakes and their triumphs. I believe that learning through failure and effort is often better than learning by example or learning by getting help from a grown-up.

This approach filters down into education. You can help a kid solve a problem but true education comes when they learn how to solve a problem. How to think critically, persevere, time manage, approach problems and life with a growth mindset. It´s like the old adage about fish and fishing. Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them how to fish and you feed them for life. Teach a kid how to read a book and they can learn but teach them how to analyze a book, criticize a book, praise a book, even write a book and you open up a whole new realm of possibilities. Knowledge is knowing something but wisdom is knowing how to adapt this into your life. This idea can be applied to so many aspects of education and upbringing in general.

A parent is both a student and a teacher at the same time. We try to teach our kids how to get on in life and at the same time we study how successful our approach is. It is an ever-changing landscape however and the only real constant changes. Kids change incessantly. One day they love broccoli, the next day they don´t, one day Peppa Pig is a godlike wonder, a month later he´s a boring pink farm animal squelching in the mud going “Oink!”

So what´s the best way to ensure your kids get a great education? What can you do? That´s the million-dollar question.

I´m guessing that the apple doesn´t fall far from the tree and your offspring are likely to be similar to you. I keep that in mind when I´m teaching my kids, if I´m crap at something why would I expect my biological offspring to be good?

When it comes to child development, it’s been said that the most crucial milestones in a kid’s life occur by the age of 7. In fact, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” Aristotle however, to the best of my knowledge didn´t have the internet and I don´t agree that it´s all over by the age of 7! Long-term health and happiness definitely start in childhood, and a child’s parental interactions are a key aspect of their well-being starting very early on in their lives. A parenting style is a way that parents convey their morals, attitudes, expectations, and love to their children. They’re a common topic of discussion, and if you are a parent you probably see yourself in one of the most common parenting styles I have listed here. Taking some time to think about your own style can offer insight, encouragement, and behaviors to avoid for those tackling the challenge of parenthood.


The first four parenting styles are larger categorizations under which many subgroups of parenting styles exist. Understanding the basics of these models can help parents understand where their parenting style naturally falls, understand their natural strengths, and identify places where they’d like to make changes.

Authoritarian parents

Authoritarian parents are drill sergeants. They take rule-breaking seriously, and they want their children to know this and respect it. They’re not particularly loving, not keen on excuses, and expect obedience. This style can lead to weak emotional bonds as well as rebellion and delinquency.

Authoritative parents

Authoritative parents are firm and make clear boundaries. Kids are trained to obey and respect their elders in a kind of Confucian way. They’re not shy about praising kids. They have high expectations and are prepared to reward kids when they’re met. This style tends to reinforce good behaviors and foster positive, respectful parent-child relationships.

Permissive parents

Permissive parents enable their kids. They want their kids to enjoy their youth, so they’re less likely to impose rules and more likely to let misbehavior slide. This style can lead to a pleasant parent-child relationship, but also impetuous or materialistic behavior as kids get older.

Uninvolved parents

Uninvolved parents are either not present bodily, emotionally or both, and they don’t feel emotionally tied to their child’s wellbeing. They may actively abuse their child or overlook abuse in their surroundings. This could even include basic things like diet and exercise. Are kids getting the nutrition they need? This can have a lot of consequences.

Intentional parenting styles.

Intentional parenting styles.
Intentional parenting styles.

Tiger parents.

Success is not optional for a tiger parent.  Failure to meet or exceed expectations is punished with insults, threats and worse. Children may be more disciplined, but are often at risk for verbal/emotional abuse and may feel excessive pressure to meet family expectations.

The attached parent.

Being there for your child all the time shelters them from the storm of life but it´s demanding for parents, attachment parenting means constant nurturing. that keeps parents and kids close, and can lead to greater empathy and kindheartedness in kids. It can also lead to very dependent kids.

Free-range parents.

Free-range parents don’t want to shelter their kids too much. They advocate letting them roam and encourage kids to believe in their own abilities. It’s great for fostering independence but has potential for mischief-making.

The Gentle parent.

Gentle parents are understanding and maintain a good relationship with their children. They don´t have to be overly permissive and kids may grow up to emulate the gentleness.

Slow parents

Slow parents consciously decide to remove over-commitment, clutter, and invasive media from their kids’ lives. The goal is to give them plenty of time to recharge and pursue their authentic interests, and it can encourage early self-sufficiency and confidence. Every parent should consider their child´s screen time. Innocent-looking shows and influencers can be very influential. Do you know what your child is watching?

Gender-neutral parents

Gender-neutral parents allow their child to choose their gender identity independently and some even keep their biological gender a secret from non-family. This is a topic of much debate these days and parents will find it hard to avoid. Children may be less likely to engage in stereotyping but may feel confused about their identity.

Harmful Parenting

harmful parenting

Narcissistic parents

Narcissistic parents expect their children to attend to them on every level. Not only must they obey their parents’ every impulse, they may be the favorite one day and emotionally abused the next. This can lead to emotional suffering, suicidal thoughts and other serious mental issues.

Toxic parents

Unfortunately, toxic parents neglect and abuse their children, or fail to intervene when others are abusing them. Abuse is likely to lead to lifelong psychological damage and can often lead to the abused going on to become the abuser in other relationships.

Helicopter parents

Helicopter parents hover over their children, protecting them constantly. Even when the kids succeed in academia or sport or whatever their interests, they are deprived of opportunities to learn and grow on their own. This can make children feel aggressive, self-conscious and overly dependent on blood relations.

Snow ploughs parents

Snow plough parents will shove their way into events, plays, teams, schools and scholarships, taking away their child’s chance to earn things independently as well as their ambition toward personal accomplishments.

What kind of parent are you?

Most parents see aspects of themselves in several of these styles. It’s a good idea to think about how you parent and use what you can to make your kids the happy and healthy kids you want them to be. Knowing which things can lead to issues down the line can help to reduce bad parental habits and keep everyone smiling.

What kind of parent are you, a tiger, a snow plough, a drill sergeant, a helicopter, a free range mama or a gentle giant?

There´s plenty to digest and it´s nutritious food for thought.

Patrick Quigley is a facilitator at Shiminly.

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Chris is from Devon, in the south of England. He has been teaching English as a foreign language for over six years and has taught in China, the UK, Hungary and Spain. He has a background in Music and studied Composition at the RSAMD in Glasgow, Trinity Laban in London and at the University of York. After finishing his master’s at York, he travelled to China to teach and fell in love with it. He has been teaching ever since.

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