Podcast review: The virtues of dolphin parenting

Podcast review: The virtues of dolphin parenting

What would the world of parenting advice be without animal metaphors?

According to Harvard-trained psychiatrist and best-selling author, Dr. Shimi Kang, there are three parenting styles: tiger, jellyfish, and dolphin.

Tiger parents are authoritarian: over-directing and over-protective. Jellyfish are too permissive and lack rules, focus, and structure for their children. Dolphin parents are firm, yet flexible, much like the body of the dolphin. Dolphin parents establish rules and have expectations for behaviour; but they also offer opportunities for their children to be creative, make choices, and mistakes and learn from trial and error.

After listening to this informative podcast on the New Family, in which host Brandi Weikle talks with Dr. Kang about her book The Dolphin Parent: A Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, Self-Motivated Kids, winner of the US News 2015 International Book Award, I think that I might be a little of all three.

The Dolphin Parent: A Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, Self-Motivated Kids

Author: Dr. Shimi K. Kang
Published by: Penguin Canada
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Price: $21.78

And as someone who hasn’t landed on a consistent parenting style, the key takeaway of the podcast for me, and the part that really makes me want to read the book, was the discussion around the three elements of parenting that are the most damaging to the mental health of children.

According to Dr. Kang, the first is over-scheduling. It leads to exhaustion and sleep deprivation. The second, over-protecting, creates fragile children who lack resiliency. The third, over-instructing, leads to children who lack independence, problem-solving skills, and adaptability.

Kang suggests that adaptability is the most important skill for kids to develop in order to have an awesome life and that the other key skills children need in the 21st century are: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

She notes that these abilities to strategize and develop abstract thinking skills come from unstructured play and that children require at least 8 to 10 hours a week of play.

Weikle asks Kang the all-important, practical question: How do we keep the extra-curricular activities from spinning out of control?

Ironically, Kang tells us it’s all about scheduling:

  • Schedule sleep
  • Schedule connection, such as a family meal three or more times a week
  • Schedule free time

Then build activities to fit into this schedule.

Dolphin parents have to make choices. When her son moved up to a more competitive soccer team, Kang was clear with the coach that he would only be able to make three of the four weekly practices. She has declared Sunday dinner to be sacred in her house and has built a few hours of unstructured time around that. Her children have had to compromise on which activities they do in order to avoid spending too much time in the car.

In my house, we try to shy away from over-scheduling and the “select” or “rep” levels of most sports. Instead, we encourage our kids to join teams and clubs at school. When I send them off to play they come back with outlandish tales or discoveries. We have rules as to where they can go and what they can do, and their homework and their chores have to be finished first. Occasionally I let them have too much television or computer time. Don’t tell anyone.

Realistically, I’m not sure any parents are solely one of these animal metaphors. I know I’m not. But the lessons of dolphin parenting are valuable and worth considering. You may not want to morph from a tiger or a jellyfish to a dolphin overnight, but there might be some ideas here you can start using with your family.

I found Dr. Kang’s talk to be informative, somewhat scary, and at times a bit unrealistic, but well worth the listen. It helped me discover my own parenting label. I’m a ti-phin-fish and I’m proud.

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