Pretty much the minute you become a mom, it feels like there’s pressure to pick a parenting philosophy. Are you going to adhere to Attachment Parenting (à la Dr. William Sears or Dr. Gordon Neufeld), who advocate creating strong emotional bonds via co-sleeping and breast feeding on demand? Or will you tend toward Tiger Parenting, which aims to instill in children self-discipline and a desire to achieve? If you think you might end up somewhere in the middle, there’s good news. In her new parenting manual called The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger, Shimi Kang, M.D., argues that the key to raising children who will thrive in the fast-paced environment of the 21st century is to give them balance.
It’s that simple?
Actually, yes, posits Dr. Kang. Dolphin parenting starts with reimagining our contemporary definition of success. “When we talk about adults who are successful today, it’s always about recognition and financial gain,” says Dr. Kang. When it comes to kids, she points out, success tends to be about academic and athletic achievements rather than finding their passion and creating meaningful connections with their peers.
So before you sign your kid up for more classes and activities (the way a tiger parent might), or decide to leave it entirely up to them to plot a path to success (as jellyfish parents tend to do), here are Dr. Kang’s top tips for the balanced, nurturing parenting favored by dolphins.
Guide—don’t force or withdraw
Dolphin parents are authoritative, but not authoritarian. They don’t demand or threaten. Nor do they leave major decisions in the hands of their children, which can lead to children having trouble with expectations and authority. Dolphins nudge and coax their children toward self-discovery, all while providing boundaries and guidance.
Get Back to Basics
You probably most likely already definitely know this, but kids need to sleep about twelve hours a day. Any less, and they get tired and stressed. They also need a healthy diet, which includes loading up on water instead of fruit juice or soda and indulging in treats only occasionally. And they need downtime—not more highly-instructed activities, lessons and practices. “Around the world, we’re seeing a rise in children suffering from stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation and insomnia,” writes Dr. Kang. “We’re also seeing a rise in children with ‘overexercise’ injuries and concussions from sports, as well as ‘overstudying’ problems such as obesity and even near-sightedness. We are literally killing our children.”
Let Them Fail
Research abounds these days about how important it is to let your kids stumble. Yep, you read that right. To let kids make mistakes and to not try to get out in front of every hardship they might encounter in order to make their lives easier for them—even when you know you could. Because when parents do that, they actually rob their kids of essential opportunities to learn key skills like perseverance, personal responsibility and learning from mistakes.
Ultimately, the styles of learning and pathways that lead to success are changing. As Dr. Kang notes, we’re transitioning from the Information Age into the Conceptual Age, which is going to increasingly depend on big ideas, collaboration and communication—all skills that are more easily acquired through imaginative free play than overly-structured activities. And while all this might seem a long way off for parents of newborns, it’s easy to get caught up in the parenting panic from the early days. So take this last piece of Dr. Kang’s advice to heart: Parents who try to get their children ahead in life often end up setting them back….
Check out our last book review here.