The Dolphin Way – a Book Review and Giveaway

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book to review. However, all of the opinions are mine.

When I was a new mom, parenting books were a great resource. They helped me understand developmental milestones, the not-so-terrible twos and the absolutely challenging threes, potty training, and sibling rivalry.

dolphin wayAs my kids grew older, however, my commitment to reading parenting books declined. Perhaps it was exhaustion, the increasing lack of free time, or the fact my kids could talk, and therefore give me information about what was going on, but books about raising kids no longer appealed. It took effort to get me focused on any of them (lazy me!), and the dust on the stack of books on my bedside table proved my lack of enthusiasm (and, perhaps, my poor dusting skills). However, when I was invited to review a new parenting book, “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids—Without Turning into a Tiger” by Shimi K. Kang, MD, I decided to forgo my parenting book exhaustion and give this book a try. And, I am glad I did.

My family and I live in a town where academic success is prized and where our high school regularly sends a significant number of graduates to Ivy League colleges and other top universities. In fact, the school system is seen as one of our town’s selling points, and the real estate market indicates people will pay lots to make sure their children have the best opportunities. Kids here go to after school math class starting in elementary school, prep courses during the summer to get ready for the high school Advanced Placement classes, and music lessons as soon as they can hold the violin (and I’ll admit to this one: my kids, aged 4 and 6, started piano lessons this month). There can be a great deal of pressure for children to succeed–both on the kids themselves and their parents. As our children grow older, how my husband and I navigate that stress and how we make the right choices for our children for today—and their futures—has been on my mind ever since my son started kindergarten last fall.

Enter “The Dolphin Way.”

If you’ve read, as I have, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, you are well-versed in the definition of a tiger parent: someone who pushes his or her children to meet his or her expectations and who places high demands—whether it is in academics, sports, or music—on achievement and excelling. The child’s time is booked with lessons and other commitments, leaving little or no free time. The parents hover and micromanage. Little regard is given to the child’s preferences; it’s the blueprint for a life of A+ grades with stress-induced migraines and unhappiness piled on top. While praised by some, research shows that this parenting style does not result in children who have learned how to motivate themselves and who are, in many cases, exhausted due to the volume of work before them.

On the other end of the spectrum is the “jellyfish” parent. This approach defines parents who are too permissive and don’t set boundaries. They seek to be their child’s friend instead of parent and avoid confrontation at all costs. When children of jellyfish parents grow up, they are less likely to respect authority, and they are often irresponsible and impulsive with poor relationship skills.

In “The Dolphin Way,” Dr. Kang, a mother and physician based in Canada, draws on the latest neuroscience and behavioral research to show why pushy tiger parents and permissive jellyfish parents actually hinder self-motivation.

Dr. Kang contrasts tiger and jellyfish parents with the dolphin parent, a new model of parenting that is based upon our planet’s most joyful, intelligent, playful species. In this model—one that I found approachable and (gasp!) achievable—she offers a number of strategies to raise kids who are well adjusted and who make good choices. Here are six of my favorites:

  • Sleep – Dr. Kang writes about actually giving some of her patients prescriptions for more sleep! At times when they were overly taxed, that prescription made all the difference in their ability to get better. Dolphin parenting calls for making time for the activities that keep us healthy, such as getting enough sleep, so as to ensure we (and our children) can be our best selves.
  • Play – Oh, this one I loved! Dr. Kang emphasizes the importance of play, both for fun and for brain development. The spontaneous, imaginative play children engage in with one another in the back yard and on the playground is an excellent way for them to understand teamwork and respect and learn negotiation and leadership skills. It’s more powerful in many ways that playing organized sports, where a coach or referee makes the decisions. Imaginative play gives children the responsibility to direct their interactions and establish codes of behavior that are acceptable to all—all of which is helpful training for adulthood. The key to this, of course, is to leave open, unscheduled time in a child’s day so such fun can take place. The impact of not having enough playtime during childhood, according to some research, can be both negative and lifelong.
  • Community – Dolphins live in pods, eating, sleeping, and traveling together. Their existence is based upon their dependence on one another, as well as their independent actions. Raising children follows similar patterns, and by emphasizing the value of community, children internalize the importance of looking out for another and intervening when someone is in need.
  • Listening – In our non-stop lives, really listening to what our children are telling us can be difficult. We can miss important details about them, which can lead to long-term problems and inappropriate decisions. Make listening a priority, Dr. Kang advises.
  • Empathy – Hand in hand with listening is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” By showing our children that we understand their point-of-view, their concerns, and their suggestions, we demonstrate that we appreciate and place importance on them and their ideas. Dr. Kang provides examples of how to adopt this strategy.
  • Role Models – Just like a dolphin mother guides her baby to the surface of the water for the first time, showing that young dolphin how to swim and get air, so should the parents model the behaviors they want their children to emulate. I see it all the time in my children: they hear everything I say (especially the things I don’t want them to hear) and they mimic phrases or words I use. They watch what I do, too, so it’s incumbent upon me, and my husband, to ensure our actions model the good and appropriate behaviors we want them to take on.

There’s more in “The Dolphin Way,” of course—more ideas about self-reliance and independence, more tips on guiding and coaching, more good ideas to ponder. My copy of the book has salmon-colored sticky notes on many pages as a reminder to “go back and read this again!”

To help you read this resource for the first time, I’m giving away a copy of “The Dolphin Way” to one lucky Red Shutters reader! To enter, comment on this blog post by Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at midnight ET, identifying your parenting style in the comments: Are you a jellyfish? Tiger? Dolphin? And, be sure to read the giveaway guidelines below.

Giveaway Guidelines: Each comment to this post equals one entry and must include a name and valid email address to be eligible. One entry per household. Limited to entrants over 18 in the US and Canada. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on June 25, 2014 at midnight ET. The winner will receive a copy of “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids—Without Turning into a Tiger” by Shimi K. Kang, MD, with a retail value of $26.95 US. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. All comments will be numbered in the order they are received and must answer the question asked above. Red Shutters will select the winner using the Random Number Generator at  Winner will be notified by email at the address given in their entry. The prize will be provided by Shelton Interactive. Red Shutters is not responsible for any problems with receipt of the prize. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts; void where prohibited.

Update: The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations, Dave! 

  1. June 19, 2014
  2. June 23, 2014