Parenting Styles

Parenting styles have gotten a lot of attention lately about how Gen X parents are doing “too much” for their children and rendering them “helpless”.  Research indicates that today’s college graduates are returning home in greater numbers than at any point in recent history.  What is contributing to this trend? Are we preparing our children to be successful? Have we made them less capable of handling job responsibilities? Perhaps a more realistic approach is that we have not let them try and fail enough to be successful. What parenting style is best?

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Reflect on your successes and what helped you reach your goal. Did you succeed on your first try, or did it take a few wrong turns to guide you on your way? It is often what we learn along the way that provides us with the most valuable information.

As parents, we are in the best possible position to help our children learn from their mistakes. This is not an opportunity to keep them from failing. When you prevent learning from failure, you prevent the ability to recognize skill, persistence and resilience. Too often, we soften the blow of failure by intervening and rescuing our children from certain disappointment or consequences.  It is imperative that we are allowed experience this in order to realize we are capable of picking up and starting again. When you take away this opportunity you are in essence are telling your child “I don’t think you can handle this, so I will”.  There are several common parenting styles:

A helicopter parent is often too concerned with fallout and will rescue their child from potentially “harmful” messages. These parents believe in the message “you are what others say you are” so we need to stop people from saying this about you. These children often receive an over abundance of praise and have difficulty actually determining the true nature of their performance.  They often become dependent on the opinion of others and struggle with self esteem. When entering the “real world” they often make assumptions about their capabilities that are not realistic which can set them up for failure and reduce their confidence making future attempts less likely.

A Tiger Parent demands high performance (grades, victories, accolades, etc.) and assumes worth is directly tied to how well you perform. This method often fails to sustain motivation, as it sends a message to a child that you are only valuable on those days/times that you succeed.  This type of parenting will leave children thinking that love is only received in direct proportion to their performance.  Parents need to provide support and encouragement for all their child’s attempts and hard work, not simply when they bring home the gold medal. 

Supplier parents are focused on parenting as a “job”. They provide the necessary tools (i.e. food, shelter and educational opportunities) and the children are expected to manage. While this can promote independence, it can also create a distance from emotional connection and leave children starving for meaningful attention. These children recognize that something is missing and often “act out” to solicit their parents focus. Have you ever heard yourself say to your child “I give you _____, and you still _______!)  Perhaps you have missed key ingredients of support and nurturing that foster successful independence.

Hero Parents are a unique combination of concern for performance and self esteem.  These parents view their child’s performance as an outcome of competency, which stems from hard work.  Self esteem is a by-product of appropriately placed praise for effort. The underlying message is “you are valued and blessed with talents”, “where will you use these”, and “how good do you want to be at that?” The choice is left up to the child for what to do next and ultimately achieve any success.

This stuff is difficult

Parenting is difficult, and no one offers an instruction manual; much less a rule book. Think about how many versions it would have as we face new challenges and experience exceptions to situations.  It would be outdated before it went to print. Perhaps we should first analyze “why” we are doing something and determine if it is for the benefit of our child’s learning or for us to feel like we are trying to prevent potential heartache/disappointment, etc. Emotions are a good thing and should be validated and supported, not ignored and avoided. Things in life should make us angry, sad, happy, confused, anxious, etc. What we do with these feelings shape our character and our moral compass.

Finding the right balance

Athletics is a great example of where over involvement is often counterproductive to independence and success.  We see Olympians and want to bask in the glory of our child waving to us from the medal stand or to hear a sound bite of “I owe it all to you mom”.  Realistically, we can no more make our children Olympians than we can pick winning lottery numbers. Talent can be nurtured but it cannot be fully utilized without hard work.  This hard work needs to come from the individual themselves. If we look at our involvement and realize that we are working harder than our children, perhaps it is our dream and not theirs. Certainly we can provide tools, transportation and encouragement, but we cannot make them successful.  Only they can, and it’s often realized from trying over and over again until they get it right.

As parents, we want our children to be successful, self sufficient members of society.  We need to act as a resource while teaching the value of hard work (without over monitoring) and praising effort/improvement rather than placement/winning. What type of parenting styles do you want to convey?  Click here to learn more about successful parenting.

Stephanie Phillips, LCMHC

Stephanie Phillips, LCMHC, NCC, CCTP
Psychotherapist & Owner
The Mindly Group, PLLC