You know all about tiger mom-ing and do your best not to delve into helicopter territory, but have you heard about elephant parenting? What exactly is this child-rearing style, and is it more likely to result in a happy, well-adjusted child? We did a little research and spoke to a developmental psychologist to get her take on this parenting trend. Here’s what we learned.
Meet the expert
Wait, So What Exactly Is an Elephant Parent?
The term “elephant parenting” was added to the child-rearing lexicon in 2014, when Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar used the phrase in an article for The Atlantic to describe her own softer parenting style and how it clashed with the dominant “tiger mom” approach of the time. The current definition of elephant parenting is true to its roots, referring to a parenting style that prioritizes the happiness and emotional security of the child, while emphasizing warmth, empathy and encouragement as a means of building confidence and promoting a strong, trusting parent-child connection.
6 Signs You’re an Elephant Parent
1. You would never dream of doing CIO with your baby
Elephant parents are known for being particularly nurturing, which means they are highly unlikely to silence their instinct to console a crying baby…no matter what hour of the night it is. Indeed, elephant parents tend to encourage their children to reach out for help when needed and are far less likely to push self-soothing habits with a cry it out approach to sleep.
2. When your kid falls down on the playground, you’re there in a heartbeat to comfort him
Consoling, nurturing, protecting—those are the top priorities of an elephant parent. As such, when your kid falls down, you’re not going to wait around to find out if you’re really needed; you’ll be the first one on the scene, ready to scoop him up in your arms, dry his tears, and kiss the booboo before he resumes play.
3. Your 3-year-old can’t zip her jacket or put on her shoes…and that’s totally cool with you
Again, elephant parents want their children to feel comfortable asking for help and, unlike tiger parents, they aren’t particularly focused on pushing their children to grow up and become independent faster. In contrast to helicopter parents, however, elephant parents aren’t going to discourage their kids from being more independent; they just let their kids develop at their own pace and are ready to offer help when needed.
4. Your kid gets a C- on her math test and your first instinct is to ask her how she feels about it
For elephant parents, academic and athletic achievement are not nearly as important as a child’s feelings, so a bad score on a test is more likely to elicit empathy than anger or disappointment. If you practice this parenting style, your first instinct will likely be to check in with the child about how they’re feeling, while also offering words of encouragement and support.
5. Your 5-year-old still sleeps in your bed, and you don’t mind one bit
Elephant parents are always warm and gentle with their offspring, and thus tend to favor an attachment parenting style during the infant period and beyond. If your school-aged kid still wants the comfort of your presence at night and you’re more than happy to provide it, you’re probably an elephant parent.
6. You don’t have strict rules and prefer to be flexible with your expectations
There are no hard-and-fast rules in elephant parenting—namely because every situation is different and elephant parents believe it’s their duty to adapt to the needs of their children. In fact, if you’re an elephant parent, your kid’s happiness is your main concern. As such, if your 7-year-old can’t bring himself to clean his room, you’re not going to force the issue. Instead, you’ll try to understand why he’s having such a tough time, so you can meet him where he’s at. In other words, an authoritarian parenting style that involves demands and consequences just isn’t for you.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Elephant Parenting
According to Dr. Kim, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting because “all children (even children within the same household) are different, so the parenting style for each child should be one that supports the child’s emotional security and helps them thrive.” And since almost all parenting styles aim to accomplish this in some way, elephant parenting isn’t an inherently better choice.
That said, the elephant parenting ethos does tend to lend itself to the kind of flexibility and emotional sensitivity needed to establish a strong parent-child bond and “any method that strengthens the relationship you have with your child and builds that trust and reassurance will be better for their growth, development, and long-term success,” says Dr. Kim. It’s also worth noting that the adaptability of the elephant parent can be an asset, since “parent-child relationships are bidirectional and it’s important to get cues from your child on what they need from you as a parent.”
Per the expert, “the parent-child relationship is a huge predictor of children’s emotion regulation behaviors and capacities…and research shows that elements of warmth, support, and parental monitoring are related to positive outcomes.” Suffice it to say, the soft and nurturing elephant style definitely checks those boxes. In addition to making kids feel more emotionally supported and nurtured, elephant parenting has the added benefit of giving kids more freedom to explore their individuality and what makes them happy.
That said, no parenting style is without its flaws, particularly when taken to the extreme. For example, children who are shielded too much from life’s hard realities by elephant parents might struggle with problem solving in difficult situations and miss opportunities to learn from their mistakes, explains Dr. Kim. As such, the expert recommends preparing kids for the real world by balancing elements from every type of parenting style in a way that provides robust structure, but some flexibility within that structure as well. In other words, elephant parenting on the whole is a very positive thing—provided you don’t get way too loosey-goosey about it, that is.