When I was young, I loved dogs, absolutely loved them. I was the dog whisperer and all dogs were naturally drawn to me. And I couldn’t get enough of them. If I wasn’t playing with my own dogs or meeting new dogs, I was often learning about them. I read every book on dogs that our town’s library had to offer…every book.
Fast-forward several years and I am no longer reading books about dogs but am now scouring parenting books as my son is only months away from arriving. I attack those parenting books in roughly the same fashion as the dog books, reading every one I can get my hands on. And I learn quite a bit.
But now that I am quite a few years into parenting, my son is 12 and we’ve added two more daughters into the mix, I realize that I probably could have stuck with the dog books and been just fine.
Parenting books offer so many different ways to parent and get really convoluted and confusing but dog books are really quite simple when it comes to training a dog and I’ve found that those methods work rather well with children too. And since I know that you Adventurers out there will appreciate this, here are the basics.
Basics of Training Your Dog…er, I Mean Child
1. Consistent Praise
Consistently praise your children for the behaviors that you want them to continue. Give them a lot of positive attention when they are doing those things that you like. With a dog, you give a small treat, a sound of approval, a pat on the head, etc. And with children you can do very similar things.
But make sure you are complimenting and rewarding the behaviors your kids are doing and not the results. Praise them for hustling and being aggressive, not for winning the soccer game. Praise them for working hard on their homework, not for getting 100% on their assignment. Praise them for continuing to hike even when it was hot, not for making it to the summit. Praise them for all of the studying they did to get an “A” on their test, not for being smart. There’s a ton of modern psychology behind why you praise the behaviors and not the results, but I’m not going to get into that here. We’re trying to keep it simple.
2. Consistent Consequences for Poor Behavior
All of those dog books, every single one, said that you should punish a dog for bad behavior every time and that you needed to do it immediately. You needed to let the dog know as soon as possible that the bad behavior they were doing was unacceptable. You didn’t let a puppy chew up your shoes while you smiled at it only to get upset once it was done. And you didn’t reprimand your dog for peeing on your carpet only every once in a while. Because if you did these things, the dog wouldn’t know what behaviors were off limits.
And this type of dog training works amazingly well with children as well. Plus, you can actually communicate with your children ahead of time as to what those unacceptable behaviors are, which admittedly doesn’t work as well with dogs. So if your cute, little toddler starts hitting your computer with their favorite toy, you immediately say, “How sad” or “Oh no” or something along those lines, take the toy away, and put it in the closet. Then if that cute toddler throws a major tantrum, you immediately say “How sad” or “Oh no,” pick that cutie up, and put them in their room, letting them know that they can come out once they’re calm. And you do it every time until eventually little Junior doesn’t even think about whacking your computer or throwing a tantrum because they want to keep their toy and they want to stay out of their room.
This also works with older kids; except you’re usually taking away a phone and not letting them hang out with friends. Just make sure you’re consistent.
3. Follow Through
If you command a dog to come, you better be willing to make it come or be willing to reprimand it for not coming. If you often tell a dog to come but don’t do anything if it doesn’t come, the dog will get the idea that you saying, “Come,” is not a command but more of a request that the dog can follow if they feel like it. And they often don’t feel like it. But if every time you tell the dog to “Come” you actually do something about it, Fido quickly learns that it needs to come. And, voila, you have an obedient dog.
This same theory works amazingly well with children. You must follow through or else your children will quickly learn that what you say doesn’t matter, or at least it doesn’t matter until the third time you say it. If you tell your kid that they need to wash their dishes or they’ll be grounded from the X-Box for a week, you better be prepared to ground them. If you say to your child, “if you don’t get in the car right now, you’re walking home,” you better be prepared to let them walk home.
And it goes without saying that if you are always going to follow through on what you say to your kids, you better make sure that you’re willing to do what you say before you say it. But trust me, once your kids know that you actually mean what you say, they’ll start listening a whole lot better.
And that’s it. It may not seem like much and it may not sound as sophisticated as all of those novels on parenting out there, but as Adventurers we relish simplicity and we enjoy things that work. And this works. Now, go put a leash on that kid!*
*Metaphorically speaking, obviously I don’t think you should put an actual leash on your kid. They should be trained well enough that they don’t need one. 😉
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