Modern parenting is tricky. In the internet age, there is a vast amount of information to wade through, leaving parents second-guessing their child-rearing decisions. What’s the best way to raise children? Discipline them? Support them? It can get confusing. To make some parenting challenges a little easier, new parenting styles are emerging that provide a guide to help parents align their values and morals with an approach that suits them. In particular, we are moving away from rigorous and rigid ways of parenting toward attitudes that are more accepting, encouraging, and supportive, like we see in the dolphin mom parenting style.
What Is a Dolphin Mom?
Dolphin mom or dolphin parenting is a term first coined in 2014 by Shimi Kang in her book “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids – Without Turning into a Tiger.”1 The term refers to a parenting style similar to the nature of dolphins, which is playful, intelligent, and social. In her book, Kang notes that the dolphin way of parenting balances out the strict, overbearing style of tiger parenting with another looser style of parenting called “jellyfish parenting” that completely lacks rules or boundaries.2,3
Signs You’re a Dolphin Parent
So, how do you know you are a dolphin mom? Although there are many styles of parenting out there, they typically align with four key styles identified by researchers:4
The four styles differ in responsiveness versus unresponsiveness and demandingness versus un-demandingness (sounds confusing, but stick with me here). Parental responsiveness means how much the parent responds to their child’s needs in a supportive way, and demandingness refers to rules that are in place, expectations to comply, and the kind of repercussions if rules are broken.5 Each style takes a different approach, and while each has its pros and cons, most experts typically recommend a more authoritative approach that reaps the most benefits for our children.6 Some signs that you might follow a dolphin parenting style are:1
- You provide guidance rather than strict instructions
- You allow your child to have independence (age-appropriate independence, of course)
- Expectations or boundaries are age-appropriate (or specific to your child and their abilities)
- You share your values and morals by modeling what you expect
- Trial and error is okay, and you are there for support if things go awry
- Although parents are the ultimate decision-makers, you work collaboratively with your child
- Creativity is a focus in your family
Benefits of Being a Dolphin Mom
The dolphin way, or authoritative way of parenting, combines a high level of responsiveness and a high level of demand. This means you expect a lot from your child and have firm (yet appropriate boundaries), but all this is coupled with support and encouragement. Research tells us that love, nurturing, appropriate boundaries and expectations of children, validation of children’s feelings, and consideration of children’s opinions is the most developmentally healthy and effective parenting style.7
Dolphin parenting involves a lot of time and investment in developing positive discipline strategies to reinforce positive behavior rather than focusing on punishment. Parents also encourage their children to collaborate and give their opinions, which helps them become responsible adults comfortable expressing themselves and their feelings and advocating for their needs. Children of dolphin parents tend to be happier and more successful, self-reliant, better problem-solvers, and have more positive relationships with others.6
There is no single way to parent, and most of us are doing our best. Remember that the important thing is to find a parenting style that suits you and your family. Try not to focus on being a perfect parent because, believe me, there is no such thing. Some days, you will do better than others, and in certain areas of parenting, you might excel or find it challenging. Try not to get caught up in the parenting guilt. Focus on developing a positive relationship with your child that incorporates some of these dolphin mom traits to help your child reap the rewards.