So you've heard of the Tiger Mum, right? You know, more overlord than mother. Strict, demanding, and a little bit (read: A lot of bits) of a control freak. But also someone who possesses fantastic qualities you want your children to absorb. Grit. Drive. Initiative. (Hi Jenny! You're amazing!)
Photo: Victoria Novak/Shutterstock
I never wavered in what kind of dad I wanted to be. I wanted to be a cuddle monster. I wanted our daughter to know that I love her, yes, even after she got the hint from the 100th kiss on her adorable little face. But I also wanted her to know that there are limits and rights and wrongs to help mould her into a decent, opposite-of-insufferable human being.
If that's the father you want to be, too, have I got the guiding animal — parent edition — for you: The Panda Dad.
Not quite the complete opposite of a Tiger Mum, the Panda Dad is one who's "happy to parent with cuddliness, but not afraid to show some claw," as Wall Street Journal columnist Alan Paul put it when he coined the term years back. Being a Panda Dad means it's OK to spoil your children at times, but to also set guidelines you expect them to follow without being tyrannical. A father who is teaching love, independence, and the importance of self-worth.
Sound like something you could get into? Here's a few tips on how to be a Panda Dad:
Physically Lower Yourself to Your Children's Level When Talking With (Not to) Them
Of course, it's impossible to do this every single moment, but this tactic garners deployment if it's a more serious conversation — owies after a bad fall, hurt feelings from a peer-related incident, curiosity-based questions.
Let you child know your whole self is with her. That yes, you are interested in what happened to her or what she's currently feeling or thinking. Remember, you're raising a child, not a soldier.
Ask Your Kids Why They Like What They Like. Yes, Even if It's Caillou.
Dig as deep as you can. Learn their fundamental interests. For very young kids, if questions such as, "Why do you like Caillou?" aren't going anywhere, you can try yes or no questions: Do you like Caillou's hat? Do you like Caillou's doggy? Do you like how much he annoys me?
Panda Dads are genuinely interested in their children's interests, needs and ideas. Setting an authoritative parent-to-child dynamic and not allowing them to express emotions is fine if you're constructing fully cooperative assassination death machines. But that doesn't result in children who have healthy self-esteem.
Let Them Try Things on Their Own
Let them brush their own teeth, even if it only lasts four seconds. Allow that two-year-old to climb that 2m-wall. Let your child choose her own clothing. Star Trek shirt instead of Star Wars? Shudder then get over it.
Your hands-off approach in letting them make their own choices and decisions helps your children grow self-motivated interests and passions.
A Panda Dad isn't a helicopter parent. Panda Dads will make sure their children are safe, but not to the point of shielding them from the world. To not have them focus on perfection at every single little thing they do. Unless it's "wiping until clean". That is always important.
Let Them Fail
When they fail, don't get mad, feel overly sorry for them, rush to console them, or ask, "What happened?" Instead, let the incident sink in, and then ask, "What would you do differently next time?"
Failure is an amazing learning tool. It shouldn't stop your child from doing something. It should encourage your child to find another way to succeed.
Constantly encourage improvement. Don't push for perfection. If my daughter ever contracts Hepatitis B, she knows she can come to me for solace and solutions. Not a Tiger Mum who will say, "You got Hepatitis B? Why not Hepatitis A+?"
Failure can teach determination, critical thinking and independence. And once children overcome their failures and succeed from learning on their own, they will also access other traits needed to winning life — confidence, creativity and innovation.
So there you go, some quick tips and deep context to become the best Panda Dad you can be.
Oh, and just to be clear, you don't need a Panda Bod to be a Panda Dad. Though it helps with the cuddles.