Dolphins, Tigers, and Jellyfish: Oh My! Dr. Shimi Kang & The Dolphin Way

by Deanne Kondrat

dr shimi kang dolphin wayThe phrase ‘Tiger mom’ is probably something you have heard before. The term seemed to explode in pop culture in 2011 after the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua was released. All of a sudden proud tiger moms were standing up everywhere, letting their roars be heard.

In case you don’t know: a “Tiger Mother” refers to a mom who is a strict disciplinarian and is supposed to reflect traditional, strict, Asian parenting ideal. Perhaps claws and stripes aren’t your style. A new book by Dr. Shimi Kang offers a different animal as a model to emulate: the dolphin.

Dr. Kang is the author of The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids Without Turning into a Tiger. Dr. Kang is also the Medical Director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver Community, a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia and the founder of the Provincial Youth Concurrent Disorders Program at BC Children’s Hospital. She believes the “Dolphin Way” is a more organic method of parenting that allows children to flourish in their schooling and creativity.

To describe her methods, Dr. Kang contrasts attitudes of the rigid tiger, the aimless jellyfish, and the measured, centrist dolphin. Dr. Kang says she understands why parents sway towards the “tiger” parenting style. “It’s understandable that we all feel pressured into pressuring our children,” Kang writes. “School admissions are tougher than ever. Standardized test scores, GPAs, and the quality of extracurricular activities needed for acceptance have steadily risen over the last one hundred years. Today, “ensuring” a good education means involving the whole family from preschool applications to the university admissions cycle.”

She uses examples of educational systems throughout the world as a guide to how the different parenting styles can effect children and their growth. PISA is the Programme for International Student Assessment and is used to evaluate educational systems worldwide. Countries like Shanghai, China and Hong Kong are amongst the top contenders. “Dolphin parenting is much more than a style of parenting… it’s about raising children who will have healthy relationships with the world – with their community, workplace, spouse, siblings, children, parents, and, most important, themselves,” writes Dr. Kang.

“It turns out millions of Asian parents are right, if you drill your kids hard enough they can rise to the top,” Kang explains. “(But) it turns out that students can rise to the top without the grthedolphin_unitedStatesuelling regimen of memorization and endless study.” While they may do well on tests, other parts of development can suffer the the expense of chasing test scores. Finland is also consistently in the top five ranked alongside the previously mentioned countries without making fear of authority or rote learning a part of their methods.

The book goes beyond a simple debate over the carrot and the stick and the merits of strictness and permissiveness.  The book also tackles pressures and temptations particular to contemporary parenting.  For example, how does a parent regulate and introduce technology such as social networking and smart phones? The potential for distraction is almost as great as the collaborative skills and media literacy that children need to be taught.

Dr. Kang doens’t just analyze the pros and cons, she also offers practical advice. Dr. Kang advocates three key “prescriptions” to help guide parents in developing their kids: Play, Others, and Downtime. Play, especially when it encourages abstarct thinking and creativity, is a core tenet of the book.  Think of a bucket of Lego that can be used to build anything vs. a kit meant to make one particular structure. Play isn’t just fun for the child. Dr. Kang shows the links between play and brain development.

‘Others’ is a fairly straightforward concept: children need to develop social skills in order to thrive, and the best way to get that is contact with their peers. Downtime is the biggest contrast from other parenting systems. Rest and relaxation are undervalued and burnout can happen easily if a parent is constantly driving themselves and a kid. Burnout and pressure are quick ways to kill a child’s natural curiosity and motivation, which the dolphin parent is trying to foster.

Want to know more? Visit Dr. Shimi Kang’s website or send her a Tweet at @DrShimiKang

Photo Credit: Jonathan Cruz


Deanne Kondrat is a communications professional by day and a freelance writer by night. Her work has been featured in The Globe and Mail, xoVain, Hello Giggles and The London Yodeller. She hails from London, Ontario, Canada and has an addiction to twitter and burritos.

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