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.