Tigers, and Dolphins, and Helicopters

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 (oh my!) What Type of Parent Are You?

By Bonny Osterhage

When Tiger Mother Amy Chua unleashed her “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” in 2011, you couldn’t enter your local coffee shop or gather around the proverbial water cooler without hearing a debate on the pros and cons of her, what many considered to be “too harsh,” parenting style. But even if you don’t agree with it wholeheartedly, there’s a chance you could have a little Tiger Mother in your own approach, whether you are aware of it or not.
While it may not have been the catalyst, Chua’s book certainly fueled the fire over how we raise our children. In a society where “parent” has become a verb, we pour over books, read countless articles and blogs and have intense discussions on the best way to shape and mold our tiny offspring into independent (but not too out there), intelligent (but not arrogant), kind-hearted (but not a pushover) productive members of society. It’s a tall order and unfortunately there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to parenting. What works for your best friend and her children may backfire completely in your home.  Whether you are a dolphin, a tiger, a helicopter or (as one San Antonio mom summed it up) a “swimming heli-tiger,” parent, there are pros and cons to each.

You’re Gonna’ Hear Me ROAR
By the simplest definition a Tiger Mom is a strict disciplinarian who focuses heavily on outcome – specifically achievements and success. It’s an authoritative style of parenting that doesn’t allow a large margin for error. While it may sound rigid, this type of parenting style has actually been shown to be effective with children who exhibit behavioral problems.
“It leaves no room for manipulation,” describes Haley Beckel, mother of three who is also a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP) and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). “Children tend to be obedient and efficient.”
However, there are cons to this type of  “my way or the highway” style. According to Beckel, when a child is not allowed to think for himself, it can lead to a lack of independence or low self-esteem. Furthermore, as Chua herself experienced when her daughter stood outside in freezing temperatures to call her bluff, this style can backfire with rebellious children.

Let Freedom Sting
On the opposite end of the spectrum floats the Jellyfish Mom. You’ve seen her at the pool, ballpark or you may even see her in the mirror. She’s the mom who wants to be her child’s “best friend.” She doesn’t enforce a strict set of rules, preferring instead to allow the child to make his or her own decisions, and she caters to every whim. She basically floats on the current of the child, but this permissive style of parenting can sting in the long run.
“Children raised in a permissive household typically display lower self-regulation,” cautions Beckel. “They do not know how to respect authority and tend to perform poorly in school.”
These children can often come across as spoiled and demanding as a result of this type of parenting style. Studies show that children need rules, boundaries and guidelines in order to feel safe and protected. However, they also need to be allowed to experience the consequences of crossing those boundaries. Here’s where the Helicopter Mom swoops in.

Hover ‘Round
The Helicopter Mom is that woman you see at the birthday party who has micromanaged every detail. She is the biggest cheerleader for the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality that has swept playing fields across America. She adores her children and is vigilant over their care and well being. However, she doesn’t allow them to fail. As the term “Helicopter Mom” suggests, she hovers over them, rushing in to save the day.
Like every type of parent, Helicopter Mom has the best interest of her children at heart. But in her over zealousness to protect them, she is denying them real opportunities for the learning and growth that comes from setbacks and failures.
That is not to say that you shouldn’t step in and assist your child in difficult situations, but working with him to find a solution is a much better option than solving the problem for him.

Synchronized Swimming
All of these parenting styles have one thing in common: a parent who wants to get it right. There are elements of all of these styles that are positive and that prove effective if done in moderation. So how do you strike a balance between too much and too little when it comes to knowing how much discipline and attention to give your children? Enter the Dolphin Mom.
Unlike the controlling Tiger, the lenient Jellyfish and the protective Heli-Mom, the Dolphin Mom is an authoritative style of parenting that, according to Beckel, many experts tout as the most effective style of parenting. A recent article in Time Magazine even extolled the virtues of this type of parenting, describing it as one that doesn’t “over-parent” but instead nurtures the child’s “nature and self-motivation.”
“Children are raised in a loving and firm manner that validates the child as a unique individual with specific needs,” says Beckel, adding that it also fosters independence.
The Dolphin Mom has established very clear boundaries. She is helpful, but not cripplingly so. She is encouraging and supportive without being permissive. She values her children as individuals with different needs and interests and adapts her own style to accommodate the specific needs of each child.
“Children of authoritative parents develop confidence,” she states. “They feel safe to take risks and try new things because they know they will be supported if they fail. They learn to make choices and handle consequences.”

The Swimming Heli-Tiger
Again, there is no “magic pill” to parenting, and one style does not fit every child, or every parent for that matter. As the Time Magazine article notes, “we are the most involved group of parents in human history, yet our children have the highest rates of anxiety, depression, obesity and addiction than ever before.”
The best advice is to know your child, trust your instincts and communicate with your child often. Create your own style (as in the case of the swimming heli-tiger) and do what works for your child and your family. And above all, don’t be afraid to admit when something isn’t working. As Beckel points out, “parenting is a skill that has to be practiced, and tweaked.”

Bonny Osterhage is a San Antonio freelance writer and mother to two boys.

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