As an experienced dog owner ( I had had 3 dogs of my own before I had children), I thought I’d be fine when it came to child-training. My dogs were always well behaved and reliable; I believed that if I applied the same principles to my children, they would turn out that way too.
I can hear people rolling about on the floor, laughing their heads off at this notion but I’m not sure there are many of you reading this who haven’t been guilty of breaking one of their child-free idealistic judgey-pants notions at some point.
I simply didn’t know any better. I based my opinion on the observation that families with out of control dogs usually had badly behaved children; this isn’t surprising. If someone isn’t able to take the time and effort to teach their Labrador to sit nicely, and not jump up on people, then it’s unlikely they have been able to work out how to explain to their children that there are some situations where it’s important to sit down calmly, and stay quiet.
But while dogs can be successfully trained using positive reinforcement and distraction, this will not work for most children for very long. At some point you have to hand some responsibility to a child, and listen to their ideas about what they ‘should’ do. The days of ‘Because I Said So’ are long gone. Women no longer defer to their husbands, employees don’t kowtow to their bosses and minority groups are rightly outspoken and demanding these days. We can’t expect our children to watch everyone negotiating their own terms, and expect them to obediently just ‘do as they are told’.
Of course we have to set boundaries, and put rules in place to make sure our children stay safe and take responsibility for their own actions. We want them to grow up to be happy, useful members of society, after all. So we need to pick our battles, try not to yell ( too much) and attempt not to take it personally when it all goes wrong.
With enough repetition (nagging) and encouragement (pleading), most children can be taught to perform a few simple tasks automatically. I’m talking about things like taking your shoes off when you come in the door, taking your plates to the bench and putting dirty clothes in the basket.
I’m pleased to say, that on average my own kids do 1.75 of the things listed above. But there are plenty of other things I’ve not yet been able to teach them to do. Some are:
1/ Brush their teeth before they put their school uniform on. The 3-digit number of times I’ve had to send one of them back upstairs to change into something that doesn’t have toothpaste dribbled down or smeared across it, has done nothing to help them remember in which order these two tasks should be performed.
2/ Put their shoes in the ‘shoe bin’. We have two plastic boxes by the front door for shoes to go in. My kids would rather walk through the house with their shoes on, and take them off in the sun room, where they will be stolen by The Lurcher, chewed lightly, rained on and left half buried next to the rhubarb.
3/ Put the SKY remote on the TV cabinet when they have finished changing channel. Instead they are so terrified of their siblings getting their hands on it, they keep hold of it at all times and carry it from room to room with them. Of course, at some point they have to put it down *somewhere* in the house, and then it’s lost forever.
We are now into our third day of the TV being stuck on the Disney Channel, because of this exact scenario. A new one has been delivered, thank goodness. I now have to get it tuned in so it works, and expect that about 3 minutes after I’ve done that, the old one will re surface.
If anyone out there has managed to teach their kids to do any of these three things, or would like to suggest a fate suitable for the child who mislays the new SKY remote, please feel free to comment below.