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Tiger Mums? Give me Dolphin Dads any day

There's more than one way to encourage your child to learn

Last week David Cameron came out in support of so-called Tiger Mums, mothers who push their children into intense programmes of out-of-school activities (such as chess clubs, violin lessons and after-school maths tutorials) to help them succeed.  I squirmed as I listened to several such mums talking about their experiences  on Radio 4's Broadcasting House yesterday.

I should be honest, like most parents I'd love my children to do well (in their studies, in making friends, or in getting into the cricket team) but quite apart from being the wrong gender, being a Tiger Mum is just not my style.  I'm not strict enough, I'm not focused enough, and more to the point I just know there would be a huge backlash from my kids if I even tried.

Children all respond in different ways, but there is a model of behaviour that I think is at least as likely to work in encouraging your child to succeed (whatever that word means).  It involves being playful with them, encouraging them to explore and ask why, talking to them at their level rather than talking down to them, setting them challenges that stretch them - and if they try and don't succeed, praising them for effort and encouraging them to try again.

This type of parental behaviour needs a name. Discussing this with a friend yesterday, we wondered if there's an animal that encapsulates it.  Instead of 'Tiger Mum', we could call it being an 'Animal X Dad'. But what animal?  Wolf?  No, too scary.  Monkey?  No, too cheeky, not enough respect.   Bear?  A bit too cuddly.  We felt it should be more playful, friendly, a team player, intelligent.  After toying with otter, robin and border collie we hit on it:  A dolphin.  Dolphin Dads - that's it!  The alternative to Tiger Mums, for parents who want their kids to do well in life while having fun at the same time.

As I sat down to write this blog, I thought I'd just check that the phrase 'Dolphin Dad' didn't already exist. A quick Google and....Oh No!!  It looks like somebody in the USA came up with this very idea three years ago.  Drat.  Still, I can console myself that sometimes when two people independently come up with the same idea, it means that it probably has some merit.

Maths on The Go. Published by Square Peg Books, Jan 2016