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Thoughts On Parenting The Dolphin Way

Posted by Dani on April 20, 2014

The Dolphin Way
I recently read an advance copy of The Dolphin Way by Dr. Shimi Kang and spent some time mulling over my own parenting style. In this book, Dr. Kang explores the Tiger Parenting model, which hit mainstream consciousness recently with the publication of Amy Chua’s controversial 2011 book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She shows, with statistics and real life example, how this style leaves both parents and children exhausted, stressed, and burned out.

Dr. Kang draws on her own experience as a Harvard-trained child and youth psychiatrist, mother of 3, and daughter of immigrant parents to create an alternative model she calls the Dolphin Way. In contrast to the rigid, demanding, and controlling style of the Tiger parent, Dolphins guide their children in a firm but flexible way, and focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. This creates the balanced, successful, and happy individuals the world needs. She provides “prescriptions” for shifting away from some of the negative patterns and incorporating the Dolphin approach.

This book represents a good opportunity for reflecting on our own parenting style. We all want our children to succeed, and I think the minute we become parents some switch goes off that brings up all our insecurities. We want the best for them, and drive ourselves (and them) to the limit to make sure they get it. Dr. Kang points out that we always want more. When a child excels in school, we arrange for a special tutor to develop their “brilliance.” When a child plays fabulous soccer, we try out for elite teams and hire special coaches. This is such a natural urge for parents that they might not even notice how they’ve turned a joyful and positive talent into something that feels like “work” for the children.

If you’ve been a bit of a Tiger parent, this book will make you look at things a little differently. For me, the best part of this book was that it validated the gentler mothering instincts that I often buried, the instincts that always just wanted to love my kids and help them to be happy. It’s hard to go with this heart-based approach in the face of a high-pressure world that demands success.

As the mother of teens, I’ve often wondered if I should have done more to develop their skills and talents. My kids attended an academically challenging school, filled with children of Tiger parents. The kinds of abilities we saw in these kids were pretty intimidating, and really made me question why I didn’t do more. Even my kids would occasionally say to me that I should have pushed them so that they would now be accomplished in other areas. These days I think kids feel the pressure more acutely than parents do.

Dr. Kang tells us to relax and make space for enjoyment. She talks about the example of Finland, where kids don’t start school until the age of 7, and get 75 minutes of creative play built into every day. Children have little homework, write few tests, and follow a curriculum based on cooperation not competition. There are no private schools, no school rankings, and no streaming based on academic aptitude. Yet Finland produces an outstanding number of Nobel Prize winners and ranks top in international student assessments.

Dr. Kang gives us a lot to think about. It’s a good read, with eye-opening examples and many practical suggestions for incorporating some of this thinking into your own life. The Dolphin Way offers a roadmap for finding a little more balance in the way we parent, so that we can help our children become happy, successful, independent, and self-motivated adults.

 

16 Responses to “Thoughts On Parenting The Dolphin Way”

  1. Steph says:

    Thanks for this post! I’m constantly thinking about this with my own kids. I have a 3.5 year old and a 20-month-old. All of the neighbourhood friends of my oldest are in montessori and he’s at home with me. I bring him out to play groups etc but I’m always wondering if I’m missing out on giving him more. Should I have put him in school too? Then I think about bringing him to music class because he loves music etc and then I forget about it and when I think about it again it’s too late, the registration is over. I love my time with my kids and I think he’s developing well with me, but there is always that question! Maybe I’ll check out that book too!

    • Dani says:

      Oh Steph, I totally relate. There is nothing worse than mother-doubt! This book will be very very reassuring, you should pick it up just for that! I had my kids at home with me, and believe me – that time flies too fast. And I’m not sure the early learning matters all that much. The new studies on all day kindergarten here in Ontario are saying that all the kids even out by grade 1 or 2, whether they had all-day or not. Another example is that I kept my kids off of electronics for a long time, preferring to do crafts and other activities, and they became whizzes at the computer anyway. I think you sound like the perfect mother for those kids – no one loves them like you do, and you will always know what’s best. We have to keep telling ourselves that, because mothers always worry! Thanks so much for dropping in.

  2. Wow, not sure if I’m being hormonal or this really has touched a nerve! When we were bringing up our son, Mike, I was determined to break any chains that weighted me down in child hood. Tiger parenting, hmmm, glad to know what I can now call my upbringing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably exaggerating a bit painting my upbringing with that brush, but my learning capabilities were not the same as the other kids and well my Mother tried to yell learning into my brain. Not a great tool for a very sensitive little girl who felt inferior and that I just didn’t belong to my family to begin with, I was artistic and that was very foreign to my family. Any good marks I did bring home were always greeted with, what did everyone else get, who had the highest mark? So, I was VERY determined to never make my Son feel that way… I am happy to report that in my adult years I have realized that “I is smart”, that I am highly creative and I gave my Son confidence to explore how he learns and lives. I am very proud of how we raised our kiddo, to respect others, to be a good person and to be true to himself. Our home’s mantra has always been and will always be, success is subjective, if you are truly happy and fulfilled, you are successful! Thanks for this therapy session, looks like I needed it! xo

    • Dani says:

      I hear you Laurie. I also have worked hard to break the chains from my childhood. Parents had good intentions then, but times were different, and I struggled as a child with many of the same feelings you did. It was about harshness, not love, and I’ve really worked hard to change that with my girls. Actually it was being so loving with my girls that made me realize how much of that was lacking in my childhood. I feel really grateful for you and for me, that we can grow up and create a family that reflects our own beliefs. I am so happy to hear you say that you realized your own value and worth. I still work on that in some ways. I think working with these kinds of feelings is tough, but it makes us better. I am really inspired by your energy and ideas and talents that I see on your blog. Everything you said in the last few sentences is so wise and powerful – those values are precious, and the best foundation you can give your son. I can tell you have been an amazing mom and your son is so lucky to have you love and support him as he is. xo.

  3. Definitely lots to think about… we’re moving into the out-on-your-own stage, and it’s bizarre how inadequately I feel I’ve parented our daughter to be ready for this next step, and yet, what does ready really look like in the end? It’s all such a journey… if I could do it all over again, we’d be swimming with the dolphins!! 😉

    • Dani says:

      I’m at the same stage, and when I look back I would do so many things differently. I think they still need us though, even when they’re older, so I try to fit in as much good parenting as I can. At least when they listen 😉

  4. Christine says:

    Oh wow! So much food for thought. Parenting is no easy feat. “Dolphins guide their children in a firm but flexible way, and focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.” Love that 🙂

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Christine! She does make some very good points. I think it’s great that parents have resources like this these days to help them along, rather than just doing whatever our parents did, like generations before us.

  5. Jenn says:

    I love this book! Its funny, I was thought I was a tiger parent (I am in a way) but I love giving my kids free, unstructured play time. At times I thought I was being a bad parent not pushing my kids to excel or signing them up for tons of sports or activities. This book gave me a new perspective!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Jenn! I think all parents want the best for their kids. It’s hard to find a balance sometimes. This author did help me to look at things differently. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I read this book too and I totally agree with all your points. I have been deep into reflection since I started The Dolphin Way.

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Tammy. It’s a great read, and I also found it made me think about a lot of things. Thanks so much for dropping in.

  7. wow no school until 7 yrs? I like that actually! I have a pretty relaxed parenting style, I doubt anyone could call me a tiger parent lol

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Jennifer. I have become more relaxed over the years, but I would have eased up even more if I had to do it again. And I really like some of the ideas they use in Finland, including starting school a little later. Thanks so much for dropping in!

  8. Sounds like an interesting read. We are going through a challenging period with our oldest right now and have been thinking more about our parenting approach

    • Dani says:

      Challenging periods in parenting are sometimes more common than non-challenging ones! I hope you sort things out soon. My friends with older kids tell me it all seems to work out in the end!

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