Parenting is a tough gig. There is no “perfect” set of directions to follow that work with every kid and every situation. I started to teach before I had children and bemoaned that if only parents could be consistent with some basic rules in the household, all would be well. Having my own children brought a new level of humility to my perspective. Sometimes we are able to follow our intuition and get it right. Sometimes we’re just tired and want to avoid conflict. Sometimes we are left in search of the magic answer to steer us in another direction that will solve all issues and reassure us that we’re doing the “right” thing. There is no easy answer and parenting continues as one of THE most work intensive endeavours of my life.
My mother had her well-worn copy of Dr. Spock in her bedroom bookcase well into my teen years. My parenting bible was How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. I read it repeatedly through the lucid moments, frustrations, phases and stages of bringing up my own two children. For those parents bringing children up in the 21st Century, the “must read” is The Dolphin Parent by Dr. Shimi K. Kang. She is a Harvard-trained child and adult psychiatrist who provides advice in the form of prescriptions for parents who strive to raise children who have healthy relationships with the world and meet challenges with determination and hard work.
Dr. Kang provides a basic frame that divides parenting into three categories:
1. Authoritarian or the “I know best” parent. Dr. Kang includes both the overdirecting and the overprotecting parents who micromanage their children’s lives. This is an easy trap to fall into because many of us have been parented ourselves in this way. She asserts that when parents micromanage their children’s lives, they are underparenting and thereby robbing children of a sense of control of their own lives.
The authoritarian parents include all of the types of parents with the familiar tags applied these days:
- “Tiger” parents ferocious in their dedication to pushing their children to achieve the competitive edge
- “Helicopter” parents waiting to swoop down to intercede on their child’s behalf
- “Lawn mower or snowblower” who are always one step ahead of their child removing obstacles
- “Bubble wrappers” – who see their role to protect children from even the slightest disappointment
She uses the metaphor of the butterfly to explain the problematic aspect of helping too much. In his efforts to help, the little boy pulls off the cocoon that the butterfly is struggling to get free of. To the little boy’s surprise, the butterfly doesn’t spread his wings and fly away. The butterfly needed the time and struggle to develop the muscles and coordination to fly.
2. Passive or “Jellyfish” parents Dr. Kang frames these parents as those who avoid confrontation and underparent by failing to establish appropriate boundaries. They fail to define socially appropriate expectations around respect, social etiquette or personal values. These are parents who are overwhelmed with the demands of their own lives or strive to be best friends with their children. They hand over control without providing guidance. They struggle with saying “no” and will even resort to “turning a blind eye” or buying alcohol for their underage children to party with their friends. Dr. Kant provides specific examples from her practice where these children end up irresponsible, impulsive, with poor relationships, a lack of respect for authority and an increased likelihood to engage in riskier behaviour.
3. Authoritative parents establish clear rules and guidelines to support children in experiencing and coping with reasonable stress to develop the mental strength and resilience they need for independence. This is where the metaphor of the dolphin comes in as a model of ideal for parenting.
Dolphins are highly social animals and the bonding process is important. Their young are provided with guidance and an opportunity to learn through play. They experience natural consequences from mistakes through this playful exploration with the group. Dr. Kang is a big proponent of play to help students develop intelligence, emotional regulation, creativity and people skills. Dr. Kang cites Albert Einstein’s quote “Play is the highest form of research” to emphasize the importance of play in a child’s life. Overscheduling, memory drills, and repetitive practice puts the focus on demonstrating a specific skill set and kids don’t have the time to wonder. They stop asking questions and will not risk an incorrect answer. Apparently Edison failed 9,000 times before he eventually invented the lightbulb. He had the benefit of experiencing the learning that comes from what is too often framed as “failure” rather than “learning”. In the 21st Century, information is at our finger tips, but asking good questions is what generates innovation.
People have become very familiar with IQ or intelligent quotient as a standard measure of intelligence since the test was first widely applied to sort which soldiers would be sent to the front and which ones would be trained as officers in the U.S. Army prior to World War I. However rote learning and regurgitation of information has not resulted in “smarter” students. At the university level, The Faculty of Medicine, has needed to change requirements for entrance due to the fact that high achieving applicants do not demonstrate the problem solving ability or people skills to cope with the demands of a career in medicine. We are learning that IQ is not the best measure of gauging how well a child will fair in life.
The 4 essential 21st Century Skills for success have now been defined as CQ or Complete Quotient. It has been determined by The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills, an organization at the University of Melbourne that includes more than 250 researchers from sixty different institutions worldwide. These skills have been incorporated in educational institutions and workplace environments everywhere. The higher the CQ of your child, the more adaptable, healthier, happier and more successful you child. These skills include:
- critical thinking
As an educator and as a parent, I have come into contact with many parents and many styles of parenting. In most cases, all of these parents love their children intensely and have grand aspirations for their happiness and success in their futures. This book is an excellent way for parents to take a step back and consider what they really want to accomplish with raising their children. We still want to develop the intellectual skills of our children, but also the ability to problem solve, self regulate, form meaningful human relationships and the resilience to cope with failure and keep on learning. It also gives us the permission to bond with our children through joyful play and shared interests.