Galit Breen | September 1, 2013

Cutting-edge happiness and success research shows that the tiger mom parenting style has it all wrong and the results are unhappy and (surprisingly?) unsuccessful children. Enter: dolphin dads. A switch in your thinking may be the key to raising successful children.

In 2011, Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom threw many of us off our parenting game.Touting the benefits of strict, success-focused parenting, Chua claimed that her success first, fun second, parenting style was a foolproof formula for our children’s success. Happiness and success expert Shawn Achor isn’t so sure. Achor’s work and research at Harvard shows that the tiger approach of working hard to achieve happiness is scientifically backward and that parents should focus on helping kids be positive instead.

Tiger mom debunked

An article in the NY Daily News explains how Achor’s research is validated by two studies. The first shows that a tiger mom parenting style is associated with a lower GPA and less of a sense of family obligation than children raised in non-tiger homes. And the second shows that tiger kids face more academic pressure, more depressive symptoms and a greater sense of alienation.

Structure and rules are a good thing, but controlling children is not.

Katie Hurley, LCSW child and adolescent psychotherapist and author about how to raise happy kids, isn’t surprised. She says, “Children with parents who are overly strict can be at risk for anxiety and depression. It’s very difficult to measure up to extremely high behavioral and academic standards when much of childhood is centered around learning through trial and error. Structure and rules are a good thing, but controlling children is not.”

Happiness first

Achor’s own research shows that a happy foundation and outlook lead to success, not the other way around. Simply put — and widely believed — how we view things affects our outcome. So how does this relate to parenting? Achor’s research, first book called The Happiness Advantage and wildly popular and ridiculously funnyTED Talk all speak to the same point: Success follows happiness. And the focus of his second book, Before Happiness, is that in order to attain happiness, you first need the right perspective.

So Achor believes that not only should parents consciously work on their own happiness, but they also need to shift their focus to first building a positive psychology for their kids. The result will not only be happier and more well-adjusted kids, but more successful ones as well.

Hurley confirms, “Happy and optimistic children enjoy close relationships with both family members and peers, take healthy risks to reach their goals, show less stress and thrive both academically and socially.”

Enter: Dolphin dads

Achor says that as social, playful and intelligent animals, dolphins make better parenting models than tigers and are the key to setting kids up for happiness — and therefore success. His research shows that instead of being overly harsh, parents need to be encouraging. Instead of work first, play later, parents need to allow kids to relax while they study. Instead of setting an unmovable bar for success, parents should help kids visualize wins and set small goals to reach them.

Playfulness is an inherent quality we’re all born with. There’s nothing more encouraging for a child than for their parent to nurture their inherent truth.

And importantly, Achor says to have fun and focus on raising happy kids by being happy with them. Father of two, life coach and author of The 5 Day Self Love Challenge Josh Becker agrees. He says, “Playfulness is an inherent quality we’re all born with. There’s nothing more encouraging for a child than for their parent to nurture their inherent truth.” Becker’s parenting style is purposefully playful in order to teach his children the value of being in the moment because his research shows that “when children learn to live in the present and stay true to who they are, success always follows.”

The (happy) secret to success

No matter our parenting style, we all want our kids to be happy and successful. There’s no shame — or divisiveness — in these goals. Hurley says, “We want our children to feel loved, safe and secure. We want them to be self-confident and to reach for their dreams. In essence, we want them to be happy.” Now, with Achor’s backing, there isn’t a need to choose between happy kids and successful kids. We can follow our happiness first instincts guilt-free. Because as it turns out, happy kids are successful ones. {end}

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