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What Is Jellyfish Parenting?

A father and daughter pretend to fly on the beach on a sunny day near the ocean.
A photo of a father and daughter running along on the beach together.

Gary John Norman / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Jellyfish parenting is a laid-back, relaxed, and flexible style of raising children.
  • Jellyfish parents go with the flow, follow their children's lead, and don't often set rules or enforce consequences.
  • This approach can be great as children grow and learn more autonomy and independence, but also has some drawbacks.

Humans are animals, so it’s no surprise that we’d mimic the parenting techniques of the animal kingdom when it comes to handling our own pack of little ones. Tigers, elephants, dolphins, jellyfish —there’s a veritable zoo of parenting techniques inspired by the animal world, and many closely align closely to the four parenting styles: authoritarian (tiger), authoritative (dolphin), permissive (jellyfish), and uninvolved.

If your approach to parenting is less about structure, routine, and rules and more about going with the flow and following your child's lead, you may be a jellyfish parent. If this sounds a lot like your upbringing, you may have been raised by one. Floating along through life and wiggling through the hard stuff is what jellyfish are all about, but is this the best approach to raising your children? Here's what to know about this trending parenting style and how it may—or may not—work for your family.

The Jellyfish Parenting Style

As the name suggests, jellyfish parents are all about flexibility with their kids, their schedules, and their wants and needs. Jellyfish parents may threaten time-outs or grounding, but they rarely follow through with said consequences. Instead, they tend to prefer a more communicative approach to deal with behavior or let it go entirely. Children raised by a jellyfish parent are given a significant amount of autonomy and less structure and routine.

“The pros of this approach are that the parent has a lot of communication and positive empathy with the child which likely leads to positive attachment and connection,” explains Jami Dumler, LCSW, a counselor at Thriveworks in Pennsylvania. “Many parent-child relationships in this parenting style appear almost friendship-like.” 

Shimi Kang, MD, a psychiatrist, and best-selling author says she coined the terms jellyfish parenting and dolphin parenting in her book, The Dolphin Way. She says jellyfish parents are permissive, driven by a child's demands, and lack expectations.

Lessons Learned from a Jellyfish Parent

Jellyfish parenting techniques can work very well for certain families and children. “For some families, jellyfish parenting may flow more smoothly if they have a very compliant, calm child,” shares Dumler. “It may also flow more smoothly if the family itself operates in a very flexible, laissez-faire manner with limited schedules, routines or commitments within their week.” 

As your child ages and becomes more confident and independent, you may want to take a cue from jellyfish parents and give them more freedom. "Most families find their ‘sweet spot’ between predictable parent-generated guidelines and growing child choice, which increases as the child matures and internalizes the reasoning skills from their parents and other important adults in their lives,” says Joaniko Kohchi, director at Adelphi University’s Institute for Parenting.

“Either end of the pendulum swinging between rigid and jellyfish styles is likely to be confusing for children."

JOANIKO KOHCHI, DIRECTOR, ADELPHI UNIVERSITY'S INSTITUTE FOR PARENTING

According to Kohchi, finding a healthy middle ground is beneficial for everyone in the family. “While many parent-child conflicts arise when adolescents want to dispense with parental rules, there are often ways parents can convey care without stifling, and look out for safety while allowing for more autonomy.”

Blending elements of the laid-back jellyfish style with your existing parenting techniques can be beneficial when it comes to schoolwork, and activities like piano lessons, or karate class for example.

"An attuned parent can look at seasons when their child needs more support and take a more hands-on, tiger-style approach," explains certified parenting coach Destini Ann. "Likewise, there will be times when parents can release the reins a bit and give them the space and opportunity to succeed on their own."

Drawbacks of Being a Jellyfish Parent

While the jellyfish parenting technique can teach children to be flexible, open to change, and ready to take on the world on their own, it may not be the best approach for all families. Jellyfish parents can be seen as indulgent with no control over their children. This parenting style can have a significant impact on a child’s development and self-regulation skills.

Children of a jellyfish parent can be given too much autonomy before they’re ready for it. “Developmentally, our ability to understand problems, plan for appropriate solutions, and integrate feedback into our decision-making is not fully developed until our early to mid-twenties," explains Scott A. Roth, PsyD, founder, and clinical director at Applied Psychological Services of New Jersey. "The ultimate task of adolescent development is this independence and autonomy.”

When a parent isn’t enforcing boundaries, setting routines, or following through on consequences, children may be less equipped to make thoughtful decisions. “We are essentially implying that our children are capable of building a house with only the most rudimentary and most ill-fitting tools,” says Dr. Roth. Children raised without concrete boundaries and guidelines could fail to complete tasks that would have been simple with parental guidance or even worse get injured.

Dr. Roth says such situations could lead to anxiety and depression in children, as well as less self-reliance. In fact, studies have shown that permissive parenting can negatively influence a child's personal and emotional growth.

“A core aspect of development is being able to match a contextually defined need with the appropriate action,” he explains. “It is true that over time a child raised by jellyfish parenting could figure this out; however, there are quicker ways to teach or instill this type of problem-solving within our children.”

Does your child deal with problems by having big feelings and frequent tantrums? A jellyfish approach probably won’t be the best fit for your family.

“Parents with a jellyfish parenting style will likely have difficulty maintaining control and setting and holding boundaries with their children in the tough moments,” Dumler explains. “This parenting style will also prove difficult if there is a busy schedule or routine that needs to be maintained.”

“We want to hear, empathize with and respect children's feelings and voices while also holding strong, clear, consistent boundaries for children as the adult in charge."

JAMI DUMLER, LCSW

Kids who are used to running the show may also struggle with boundaries and hearing the word 'no,' making it hard for them to adapt to routines at school and in activities. “Jellyfish parenting has a laissez-faire nature which can make it difficult to reel in tough behaviors, big feelings, lack of motivation, and defiance from children,” explains Dumler.

It can also impact your child's overall attitude toward school, especially if a student is unmotivated or resistant to learning. "Creating clear boundaries and consistent support may be a much more effective recipe. Without the push, they’ll likely neglect doing the work at all," says Destini Ann.

Other Wildlife Parenting Styles to Know: Elephant and Dolphin

If jellyfish parenting doesn’t sound like your thing, you may want to look elsewhere in the ocean or on the plains of Africa for inspiration instead. 

Two of the more common 'animal parenting' techniques are dolphin and elephant. Elephant parents, like jellyfish parents, want their children to be happy and emotionally fulfilled. For example, if their child isn’t too concerned with schoolwork but seems happy and secure, they’re OK with it. They’re nurturing and protective—occasionally too protective.

Dolphin parents are as loving and nurturing as elephant parents, but they are more firm in their approach while still maintaining healthy flexibility. Just as dolphins travel in small groups, dolphin parents are collaborative and communicative, working directly with their children to find solutions, correct behaviors, and set goals.

A dolphin approach seems to be the standout example in the animal kingdom for allowing children the freedom they desire while setting firm boundaries and enforcing consequences. “We want to hear, empathize with and respect children's feelings and voices while also holding strong, clear, consistent boundaries for children as the adult in charge,” says Dumler.

What This Means For You

Jellyfish-style parenting may not be for every parent and family, but experts generally agree that elements of the practice can be beneficial for children and parents alike, especially as kids age and yearn for more autonomy.

Jellyfish parents can be seen as indulgent pushovers, while children of a jellyfish parent may have issues adapting to rules and routines, but there are also pros to the practice. If you tend to lean more rigid in your parenting, take a cue from the jellyfish and work with your child, not against them, to find a happy balance.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kara Nesvig
Kara Nesvig is a freelance writer with bylines in publications including PEOPLE, Apartment Therapy, Teen Vogue, Allure, Brides, and more.