Do You Know Your Parenting Style?

What do helicopters and lawn mowers have to do with parenting? Discover your parenting style and learn some handy tips for changing up your parenting game in this week's Mighty Mommy.

Cheryl Butler
8-minute read
Episode #541

Did you know that you're likely to have a specific parenting style? The concept of parenting styles was first introduced by Diane Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist, to explain differences in the way parents attempt to control and socialize their children. Our parenting styles vary on several different levels, and sometimes we're swayed by not only how we were raised but by the different trends we follow.

With the new school year just a few weeks away, you're probably stocking up on the essential supplies—# 2 pencils, notebooks, binders, and getting your kid’s wardrobes intact. But there are many other details we need to factor in. The new school year is similar to the new calendar year—a chance for fresh beginnings, exciting new goals, and as parents, a time to assess our parenting styles.

Does one of these styles sound like you? A new school year is the perfect opportunity to review how you tend to parent and to do a self-study as to whether this is working for you and your family or not. 

Parenting Style #1 - Helicopter Parenting

One of the most popular terms in parenting styles is "helicopter,” and it's probably the one that I relate to least. As a mom, I'm outnumbered eight times over. Five plus years of infertility treatments, one amazing adoption, and seven subsequent pregnancies later, I became the mother of eight kids in less than a decade. That said, because I had such a large brood to love and care for, there was just no way I had the time to hover and oversee my kids' every move.

The characteristics of a helicopter parent boil down to a parent who constantly hovers over their child.

In my episode How to Stop Helicopter Parenting, I explained how this term came to be:

The term helicopter parent was first coined in a 1969 book titled Between Parent and Child, by Haim Ginott. The teen featured in the book reported that his mother watched over him like a helicopter. Since then, many college administrators have used the term to refer to parents who continue to manage their children's lives from a distance even after they have gone away to college. 

Today, that term is still going strong and is a common parenting style because parents are unsettled about all that is going on in this big world around us, so they hover and try to protect their kids from any and all adversity.

The characteristics of a helicopter parent basically boil down to a parent who constantly hovers over their child. They monitor them excessively and jump in whenever they see a potential problem. The problem could be big (trying to cross a busy intersection alone) or even very minor (drinking a cup of hot cocoa alone).


Can you relate to the helicopter way of life? Examine how you handle your day-to-day family activities and honestly assess if you try to control most of your child’s life skills and interactions with the outside world. Maybe this new school year will offer opportunities to step back and empower your child do more things for himself.

Parenting Style #2 - Free-Range Parenting

Free-range parenting is the extreme opposite of helicopter parenting. The term speaks for itself. It was coined by Lenore Skenazy, who famously let her 9-year-old son find his way home on the New York City subway system alone and wrote about it in her New York Sun column.

This type of freedom is something that would completely horrify helicopter parents, who would say it's way too dangerous. But Skenazy, who founded the Free-Range Kids movement as a result of the massive feedback she received when her column ran in The Sun, couldn’t disagree more.

This type of freedom is something that would completely horrify helicopter parents, who would say it's way too dangerous.

On her website, Freerangekids.com, she explains Free-Range Kids is a commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times. She says it all started when she and her husband allowed their 9-year-old son to navigate his way home, alone, on the subway from Bloomingdale’s department store. The boy was well-versed in the New York way of life. He'd been asking his parents to please let him find his way home by himself because he was excited to try and confident he could achieve it. Skenazy armed him with a map, a MetroCard, quarters for the phone and $20 for emergencies and reminded him not to be shy about asking a stranger for directions if he got lost.

In her article she summed her child's adventure up by saying, “Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.”

Skenazy points to crime statistics, saying that although crime was on the rise during the '70s and '80s, according to Department of Justice statistics, it dropped dramatically after peaking around 1990. Today, crime rates are more in line with what they were in 1970. "If you were playing outside as a kid in the '70s or '80s, your kids are actually safer outside than you were," she says.

Jessica Lahey, a New Hampshire-based high school teacher and author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, is a firm believer in letting kids learn the hard way. In 5 ways to help your kid have a great school year (Hint: don’t help him) she says “It’s important that we get our kids to the point where they don’t need us at all, and that’s really counter-intuitive. Those moment-to-moment things that you do to save your kids—like when they’ve forgotten their homework on the table and you run it up to school for them? That’s going to end up biting them in the butt down the road.”

Lahey says that helping may feel like great parenting in the moment. But that's just it—excessive helping makes you feel like a super-parent, but it doesn't allow your child to solve their own problems and figure out systems to help them succeed.


If you want your parenting style to be more free-range but you’re not quite ready to let your child live the free-range way of life, you might ease into it by letting him take responsibility for something like managing his own homework and school assignments.

See also: 6 Ways to Help Your Child Thrive During the New School Year (One of my tips was “Let them fail.”)

Parenting Style #3 - Lawnmower Parenting

There’s a new parenting style in town. Lawnmower parenting recently gained a lot of attention due to the college admission scandal that rocked the nation this past spring. 

Exactly as it sounds, lawnmower parents mow obstacles down so kids won’t experience them in the first place. Instead of preparing children for challenges, they go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure.

See also: The College Admissions Scandal Is a Teachable Moment

In the infamous scandal, federal prosecutors charged 50 people—including Hollywood actresses, business leaders, and elite college coaches—with perpatrating a scheme to buy spots in the freshman classes at prominent American universities. Dozens of parents paid millions of dollars in bribes. Test scores were inflated, essays were falsified, and photographs were doctored.

Lawnmower parenting recently gained a lot of attention due to the college admission scandal that rocked the nation this past spring.

That's an extreme example of lawnmower parenting. But there are many other ways we parents lend ourselves to this style, sometimes without even realizing it.

For example, let's say you have a child who is trying to balance sports, activities, a part-time job, and her studies. You may see that she's becoming overwhelmed with her workload. If she mentions she’s starting to fall behind on a project, the lawnmower parent in you might jump in, without even consulting the child, and call the teacher and ask for an extension on her behalf. After all, you don’t want to see her struggle, and perhaps earn a lower grade, because she can’t handle her current situation. But you mowed down the obstacle rather than talking it through with her to help her find a better way to juggle her commitments.

In a Psychology Today article, Laura Choate wrote that when we do everything for our children to prevent struggles and failure, we also prevent them from developing the skills they need to think their way through challenges and take responsibility for their actions. 

Choate’s shared an example of how she herself was participating in the lawnmower movement, innocently and unintentionally. Her daughter had forgotten to have her homework papers signed by a parent. Choate remembered this as her husband was driving the kids to school. She frantically called her husband, and he managed to sign the papers and still get the kids to school on time. It seems like a small thing, but Choate says it's an example of how "seemingly small 'rescues' can accumulate into a pattern of irresponsibility" in children. When we save our kids from potential negative consequences, we don't help them learn to be responsible for owning and fixing their mistakes.

I think many of us, myself included, can relate to that scenario.


If lawnmower parenting seems to fit your current style, and you’d like to shift gears to allow your child more responsibility, here are some suggestions:

Allow your school-aged kids to do as much talking for themselves as possible. This would include ordering at restaurants, arranging their own playdates, learning to ask teachers for help when they don’t understand an assignment, interacting with the check-out teller in the grocery store, and asking the coach when the next practice is instead of relying on you to do that for her.

Trusting that your child will do well and believing he will make good decisions gives him the opportunity to grow.

High school kids can start managing their own make-up assignments, conflicts with sports or club activities, taking responsibility for arranging carpools, or handling lost text books, helping with the family grocery shopping and errands, and checking-in with the receptionist at a dental or medical appointment.

Trusting that your child will do well and believing he will make good decisions gives him the opportunity to grow. This will allow him to build self-confidence so they can handle future challenges independently.

Parenting Style #4 - Permissive Parenting

The last parenting style that many parents can relate to is permissive parenting. This is more of the warm-and-fuzzy approach to child rearing, where parents are nurturing and warm but reluctant to impose limits. Permissive parents tend to refer to their children as their friend more so than their child.

This type of parent is very loving and responsive to their child’s needs, but they don’t have many boundaries and rules. Discipline isn't on the forefront for a permissive parent because they like to avoid confrontation.

Permissive parents tend to refer to their children as their friend more so than their child.

Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, says that because their parents have a hard time enforcing limits, kids of permissive parents are more likely to show signs of anxiety and depressionbe aggressive, have bad social skills, and do poorly in school.

Because this style of parenting encourages a child to regulate their own schedules and rules, they don’t assign their kids many responsibilities and they don’t encourage kids to meet adult-imposed behavior standards.


If you see a lot of yourself in the permissive parenting description, and you'd like a bit more structure in your household, the new school year is a great time to implement some new routines and responsibilities. Having your child take ownership of making the school morning flow with less stress by preparing himself the night before is an easy place to start. Adding regular chores like helping with after-dinner cleanup or taking charge of the family pet’s feeding and care is another contribution kids can make that allow them to contribute in a positive way as well as learn responsibility.

See also: How to Establish a Daily Routine for Your Family and How to Get Kids to Help Out With Chores


Which parenting style resonates with you? Share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, the Mighty Mommy Facebook page, or Twitter. You can also email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT for more tips and hints! Listen and subscribe on AppleSpotifyGoogleStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. 



All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.