Parenting Style: Are You a Helicopter Parent? Free Range Family? Tiger Mom?

Popular media likes simple, black and white labels for more complicated ideas. For this post, I’ve gathered some trendy labels for different parenting styles. For five topics below, I’ll give two statements… decide which one comes closer to representing your feelings, and then see what “label” that would get you. I include links to resources where you can learn more about that parenting style. I often find that reading about other people’s philosophies helps me clarify what my own parenting philosophy is, and thus live it more effectively.

How should you care for a young baby? (under 6 months)

A: Parents should determine a schedule for baby’s feeding, diaper changes, and nap times. Parents provide structure, a predictable environment, and a consistent response style to train baby’s internal clock. They may leave a baby to “cry it out” as it learns self-soothing behavior.

B: Parents watch baby for hunger cues and feed on demand. They watch for toileting cues to know when a diaper change is imminent. When tired cues appear, they settle baby to sleep. Parents always respond to crying. Parents focus on being responsive to the child, and the family’s schedule adapts around baby’s needs.

If you chose A, that’s “parent led” style. One proponent of parent-led style is Gary Ezzo, author of On Becoming Baby Wise.

B is “child led” style. One proponent of baby-led style is the Sears family, authors of The Attachment Parenting Book.

Here are articles comparing a daily schedule for Parent-Led vs. Baby Led families

How much do you schedule enrichment activities (for your preschool age child)?

A: “Children are exposed to enrichment videos… from early infancy as well as specialized books and toys [and enrichment activities] designed to ensure that they are well-rounded and adequately stimulated for excelled development… considerable family resources are being invested to ensure that the children have what are marketed as the “very best” opportunities.” [Source]

B: “He doesn’t need toys… He sometimes picks up a stick and one moment it’s an airplane. Then it becomes a car, then a train, then a monster from the lagoon. What amazes me about this is his creativity and delight as he plays… In order for a child to be able to play like this and be inventive, he needs unscheduled time.” [Source]

These are the Scheduled vs. Un-Scheduled Parents. It may be best to find a good balances between the two sides. Here is an AAP article on the importance of play (and unstructured time):

How much do you intervene in your child’s conflicts? (for 5 year olds on the playground)

A: “I tried to be prepared and attentive. I would get up mid-conversation to help my boys negotiate and share if I sensed trouble was brewing. I parceled out snacks, helped them on the swings, and watched over my kids… being on top of things… was what good parents did.”

B: “Adults didn’t impose their notions of correct behavior onto the children’s natural, boisterous play. Play fighting was considered [normal]… Fighting, crying, and making up again were normal ways of figuring out how to get along… it was important not to interfere in this…”

These summaries are taken from Parenting without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh. A describes her observations about American parents versus Japanese parents. She goes on to discuss research that shows that at age 12, the Japanese kids are more empathetic and respectful of their peers. They treat other people right because it’s the right thing to do, and they know people will be unhappy if they do otherwise. Kids in America report that you need to be nice to others, because if you’re not, you’ll get caught and you’ll get in trouble with your parents or teachers.

How much do you protect your child vs. allowing free exploration?

A: These parents have a high level of oversight and supervision, providing frequent advice, reminders, and assistance. Parents protect from harm and upset, and help with decision making. Parents “smooth the way” by being actively engaged with teachers, coaches, etc.

B: These parents encourage children to actively and independently explore their worlds. “We don’t want our kids to fall off a bike. But we do want them to learn to ride. We can [either] hold onto handlebars forever, or wish them luck and then let go.”

A is the Helicopter Parent. Learn more at;  – Your Hovering Doesn’t Help

B is a Free Range Parent. Learn more at and

How would you approach school, homework, and piano practice? (for a 10 year old or so…)

A: “What [these] parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences… Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun.”

B: “[This] includes trusting your child in what they choose to learn; you extend that same trust to other areas of your child’s life, like foods, media, television, bedtime. Parenting is supposed to be joyful, and it can be when we learn to connect with, rather than control, our children. The focus of our life is on happiness and pursuing our interests with reckless abandon together. We totally immerse ourselves in our passions every single day.”

A describes a “director” approach to parenting. Amy Chua, self-described “Chinese Mother”, describes this in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Learn more:  or Video:

B is Radical Un-Schooling. Read more from Dayna Martin at Radical Unschooling: ,  Or Video:

Another perspective on parenting styles

Researchers in psychology and child development often refer to 4 styles of parenting: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Uninvolved. (Learn more here.) On that scale, all the A choices above (Parent-Led, Helicopter Parent, etc.) lean toward the Authoritarian – high on demand, low on responsiveness.

All the B choices (Child Led, Free Range Parent, Radical Unschooler) lean toward Permissive – high on responsiveness, low on demand.

You may have heard the phrase “all things in moderation.” That definitely can apply to parenting. Any of these approaches can work well if applied with a light touch. But they could all be taken too far. Parents who go too far in the authoritarian direction may end with children  who follow rules and don’t get into trouble, but might be less creative, and less happy. Parents who go too far in the permissive direction may end up with kids who are creative and happy, but have a hard time succeeding in school, peer relationships, and work.

Wherever you stand, it may be helpful to moderate a little toward the center of the spectrum between these extremes… an authoritative parent tries to find a good balance between challenging their kids to help them succeed while at the same time honoring them as individuals.

Parent Educators, here’s a couple options for a free printable handout on parenting style spectrums1. Parenting Style

Also check out this article on: 23 Parenting Philosophies and Methods Explained.

8 thoughts on “Parenting Style: Are You a Helicopter Parent? Free Range Family? Tiger Mom?

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