Hi, I am Dr Shimi Kang. If your life is anything like mine, I know there are only a few minutes (maybe seconds) before I lose your attention. Given our juggling act with things like children, relationships, work, physical health, mental health etc., you will very quickly decide if reading this is worth your precious time. My hope isn’t for you to just read about DolphinPARENTING™ – it is much more than that. I hope to bring more balance to the lives of children and parents around the world.
Did you know that we are the most involved generation of parents that have ever walked the planet, yet we are raising the unhealthiest generation of kids? Lifestyle related conditions such as anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes, and addiction all on the rise – especially in children. Despite our 21st century conveniences, stress the #1 health epidemic of the 21st century. Have we 21st century parents forgotten what it means to live a balanced human life of vitality and joy? Given that I spend a lot of my time prescribing basic things such as regular sleep, play, downtime, and true social bonding (which is quite different from socializing), I tend to think so.
The True Science of Parenting
Self-motivation can be considered a keystone to parenting. Once you have helped cultivate your child’s inner drive, you can feel reassured knowing that he/she have what they need to thrive in our fast-changing society. When we are truly self-motivated, we are driven to seek out the connections that bring us joy and problem solve the difficulties standing in our way.
Unfortunately, many parents today are sabotaging rather than strengthening their children’s inner drive—without even knowing it.
As a psychiatrist and medical director of child and youth mental health for the diverse city of Vancouver B.C., I come face to face with families from all ethnic groups and social classes, and I’ve seen the results of every parenting style. I’ve also delved deeply into the science of motivation, exploring how our biology naturally motivates us toward health, happiness, and success—if we allow it. From this and my personal experience as the mother of three children, it’s clear that we need a strong and effective parenting model.
Many of the prevalent parenting styles today describe parents that “take over.” Whether it is the “Amy Chua-like” Tiger parent pushing piano, the Helicopter parent hovering over homework, the Bubble Wrap parent over-protecting, or the Snow-Plough parent shoving all obstacles out of the way – all of these models create an environment of external control and thereby diminish a child’s sense of internal control and self-motivation. Thus, I call ALL these styles “Tiger parents” because they are all authoritarian in nature. Children of such authoritarian tiger parents are at higher risk of anxiety, depression, entitlement, poor decision making, and difficulty establishing healthy independence.
On the other extreme, permissive Jellyfish parents lack rules, discipline, and expectations. Children of Jellyfish parents may turn to peers for guidance and fail to develop self-control. They are at higher risk of poor social skills, risk-taking behaviors, and substance use. Many modern parents flip-flop between Tiger and Jellyfish leaving their child with no consistent message.
The Dolphin Way is an intuitive approach to parenting that uses role modelling, guiding, and a healthy lifestyle to help children develop internal control, adaptability, and self-motivation. The Dolphin Way has two distinct parts: 1) A balancedauthoritative parent-child relationship and 2) a balanced lifestyle, including what many of today’s kids are missing–play and exploration, a sense of community and contribution, and the basics of regular sleep, exercise, and rest. These are things Dolphins do every day that keep them healthy, happy, and motivated!
In nature, as soon as a dolphin is born, its mother gently nudges the newborn towards the surface to take its first critical breath of air while role modeling swimming motions. The dolphin mother remains close, providing help when needed, but is never overbearing—sending the message of both connection and self-reliance. In addition to developing a strong bond with their young, dolphins are very connected to their pod—and all spend plenty of time playing, exploring, collaborating, sleeping and exercising. In essence, dolphins have a balanced lifestyle and exhibit a balanced authoritative (not authoritarian) parent-child relationship.
We are naturally motivated towards health, happiness, and successful adaptation. We just need to balance taking over our kids’ lives with providing them guidance and direction. We need to stop overscheduling and overprotecting them. Only then will we cultivate our children’s self-motivation and give them the time and space to activate their own powerful intrinsic motivators. Indeed, we must step back and realize that Mother Nature is a parent’s best ally.
ADAPTABILITY: A KEY DETERMINANT OF SUCCESS ( from The Dolphin Parent )
Dr. George Vaillant’s famous Grant Study of Adult Development was the subject of the book The Triumphs of Experience. Spanning over many decades, this study was the first and remains the longest and most comprehensive scientific examination of long-term adult wellness, happiness, and success of its kind. The study, which began in 1938 at Harvard University, has followed 268 male Harvard undergraduates throughout the course of their lives. The researchers measured an astounding range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits—including IQ, major organ function, childhood behaviors such as bed-wetting, personality type, height, Rorschach inkblots interpretations, handwriting analysis, drinking habits, brain EEGs, physical looks, family background, relationships, the size of their “lip seam,” and even the “hanging length of [the] scrotum”—in an effort to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.
All subjects filled out questionnaires every two years about their everyday lives and health. Every five years, detailed data about their health was obtained from their physicians. Whenever possible, the men were personally interviewed to get more in-depth information as well as understand their adjustment to a changing world and life. The data are still being collected today, as 30 percent of these men have lived into their nineties.
Vaillant’s study has given us never-before-seen scientific insight into health, happiness, and success. Over the years, some surprising (or maybe not so surprising) trends have been identified:
- Above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t matter. There was no significant difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110–115 range and men with IQs higher than 150.
- Adaptability is a key determinant of success. The personality trait that by age fifty was an excellent predictor of those who would be in the “happy-well” group (that is, those with good subjective and objective mental and physical health)—which is also the top quartile of the Harvard men—was mature adaptive style. Vaillant describes the mature adaptive style as being able to “make a lemon into lemonade,” which to me means being able to adapt creatively and positively to any situation. Vaillant also stated that the use of altruism and a sense of humor in handling conflict and stress were also features of this mature adaptive style.
- Six factors are important predictors of those who would reach the “happy-well” group. In addition to a mature adaptive style, no smoking, little use of alcohol, regular exercise, maintenance of normal weight, and a stable marriage.
The warmth of one’s relationships has a powerful effect on health, happiness, and success.
- For example, the men who scored highest on measurements of “warm relationships” earned an average of $141,000 a year more at their peak salaries (usually between ages fifty-five and sixty) than the men who scored lowest. Not only did these men have better financial success, they were also three times more likely to be included in Who’s Who lists for their professional success. Moreover, men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mothers (remember, the study began in 1938) earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring. In contrast, men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old. Vaillant’s key takeaway, in his own words, is this: “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’”
Children must believe that it’s OK not to be perfect!
TIP: Own up to your imperfections with your children. They can see them anyway, so you might as well show them that you accept yourself but are also willing to improve. My children love pointing out my small blunders: “Mom, you forgot your phone again!”
Mistakes are great learning experiences. Let your child mess up a homework project once in a while. That’s how they’ll learn what they need to do differently next time. This is easier said than done, and deep breaths certainly help. Children need to know that everyone makes mistakes, that mistakes can be corrected, and that we learn from our mistakes. Adults need to model this understanding by openly learning from their mistakes.