Attachment parenting is often perceived, at first glance, as permissive parenting or helicopter parenting. This is interesting, since the two latter styles of parenting are nearly opposites: permissive parenting is characterized by a high degree of warmth with few, if any, boundaries set by the parent; helicopter parenting, on the other hand, is illustrated by a parent who “hovers,” or becomes too involved, in the child’s decision-making.
Permissive parenting is seen with parent-child pairs in which the child’s behavior is always seen as OK by the parent, rarely warranting discipline. What limits are set are set inconsistently and may be harsh.
Helicopter parenting is seen when the parent continue to be overly involved in a child’s activities and peer relationships far after the child naturally seeks autonomy. The teen doesn’t feel able to make his or her own decisions and relies on the parent to do so.
Attachment parenting, rather, has two key components well-represented in more than 60 years of research: sensitive response by a consistent caregiver. So we’re looking at parents who are responding with age-appropriate sensitivity and striving to be as available and consistent as possible.
This does not mean that parents don’t discipline; clearly defined boundaries are a definite part of effective parenting. What it means is that parents discipline with sensitivity: They are the warm and loving, but they are in charge. If the answer is “no,” the answer is “no.” But parents don’t need to yell or punish or bribe or coerce their child into accepting that answer.
On the other hand, attachment parenting is not the same as helicopter parenting in that the parent doesn’t hover. Attachment parenting is admittedly more intense during the early years than other approaches to parenting, but as the child in toddlerhood begins to pull away to strike out on his or her own, the parent allows this. That is sensitive response, as it is to welcome the toddler back when he or she needs reassurance before striking out again. Basically, parents strive to be emotionally available as much or as little as each individual child needs.
The goal is for the child to grow into a happy, healthy adult, and through attachment parenting, the parent can provide support and guidance for the child as the child naturally grows and develops. Eventually the child will want to make his or her own decisions, usually sooner than many parents are ready for, and it’s important to allow the child to make as many choices as they can, with safety in mind of course, and to be there to support them for the consequences.
The confusion of between attachment parenting and permissive or helicopter parenting likely has its roots in what parenting style we’re coming from. People who grew up in homes that were characterized by an authoritarian style, where the parents make the decisions and the child is expected to comply with little room for choice, likely see attachment parenting as synonymous with permissive parenting. People who grew up in homes that were characterized by a permissive style, where there were few rules and children were allowed to make all of their choices, may be see attachment parenting is similar to helicopter parenting.
In fact, attachment parenting clearly falls under the authoritative style, characterized by a high degree of warm with a clear-cut boundaries, the parents are in charge but there is flexibility to allow the child some degree of democratic power.
Google the different styles—authoritative, authoritarian, permissive—and it’s real clear, real fast, which is best-supported by research to be the most effective parenting style, not in raising absolutely obedient children or in being the easiest way to way, but in raising children who will be the most successful in their adults lives.
I’ll leave you with this illustration:
My husband tells our oldest daughter, age 7, to feed the cats and she ignores him. What would you do?
A permissive parent, who my husband struggles not to be, would probably walk away and feed the cats himself. A helicopter parent may not even ask in the first place. An authoritarian-style parent, who I started off this parenting journey being, would punish, probably harshly. But an authoritative parent, who both my husband and I strive to be, would put his or her problem-solving skills and would first resolve the emotional barrier before continuing on to the goal of the child completing the task on her own.
It turned out that our daughter was angry at her father for a comment earlier in the day that he rather brushed off as nothing, but it was apparently something to her. Once she was able to air out her hurt feelings, to the understanding ear of her father, there was no longer a power struggle over feeding the cats.