Posted by: laughs4dads | October 9, 2010

WEEKEND HOW-TO: Basic Training

At two years old, our daughter, Casey, was relatively well-behaved, which is not to imply we were able to take her to state dinners at the embassy, but then, the ambassador always forgot to invite us anyway.

At the risk of sounding too proud of our accomplishments, Barb and I took full credit for our child’s behavior. Because of this attitude of ours, we also feel qualified to blame and criticize parents whose children act as if their world, even if it is our house at the time, is their oyster and their aim is to break the shell into millions of tiny pieces.

There is no excuse for this. It is a relatively easy endeavor to train a child to behave well among other people and there are many books on the shelves that tell you exactly how to do it.

The mistake some parents make, however, is in buying the wrong books. They buy books that tell them how to carefully mold the child into an acceptable human being, books that describe, in great detail, the long-term psychological effects of every little wrong step a parent can take. You read these books, and you can’t help get the feeling that if you ever look at your child the wrong way, she’ll end up on the roof of a building with an Uzi machine gun taking pot shots at pedestrians.

On the other hand, if you buy the right sort of book, teaching your child right from wrong is simple. The kind of book you want is one with a title like “How to Train Your Puppy.”

Oh, now, look at all of you out there, about to pick up the phone and call the Parent Police. “They treated their daughter like a dog,” you want to tell them. Well, hold on. That’s not true. For one thing, Casey hated Milk Bones. My point is, teaching a young child how to behave is exactly the same thing as teaching a puppy how to behave, except there are no little pieces of liver involved. Positive and negative reinforcement. That’s all there is to it, and I am not oversimplifying.

I always had a dog growing up, and I never had to hit my dog, just as I have never hit my daughter. Dogs–and babies–respond to stimuli the same way we all do. If they are being scorned, they know something is wrong. If they are praised, they know they did something right. And if they are placed in front of a television with a bottle they know their parents want a minute of peace.

Three of the important rules of dog training are 1) pick your fights, 2) be firm and, above all, 3) be consistent. These same rules apply to children. Let’s take these one at a time.

Pick your fights. In war, a smart general will sometimes give up some ground in order to win a more important battle. Of course, training your child is not like a war, although it may feel that way at night when the kid’s asleep and you collapse in your bunker, er, bedroom. Everything in your house cannot be off limits. Children have a natural curiosity. They want desperately to discover what happens when they jump up and down on a glass topped coffee table, for instance. This instinct cannot be squelched. It is not healthy and, more importantly, it is not possible. It will lead to rebellion, and a toddler rebellion is an ugly sight. It makes a Latin American uprising look tame. So choose a few things that you will defend staunchly. Barb and I decided that, for safety’s sake, we did not want Casey crawling on the bricks around the fireplace or touching electrical outlets. We also didn’t want her playing with the vertical blinds, primarily because we hated the noise.

Be firm. Now all you have to do is inform your child, in a civilized manner, that you would prefer if they would not do these few things you have chosen. A short, sharp “No” will do. If necessary, the first couple of times you can augment it with a loud sound such as a bang on a table or, if you’re musically inclined, a trumpet blare. Your child will stop what she was doing and cry. That is good. You would cry, too, if somebody just blared a trumpet a few feet from you. Now you pick up the child and console her, telling her she was a good girl for stopping. Believe me, after a few times, your child will know what “no” means and obey you.

There is a catch, though. It seems your “no” must have exactly the right tonality to it. Barbara had a problem with this, because her “no’s” tended to raise in pitch toward the end, as if she were playing “Password” and wanted her partner to say “yes.” This makes it sound like a question. If you do this, your child will laugh at you. Really. You’ll say “no?” and your child will say “Ha Ha.”

Be consistent. Don’t let your child do something one time and then, the next time, because you’re in a bad mood, tell her she can’t do it. This is called “mixing signals,” which is very much like “mixing drinks” in that the result will be that your child will stagger around in a confused state. What’s “no” once should always be “no;” what has been previously allowed can’t suddenly be off limits.

And one more thing to remember: at least for a few years, you are bigger than she is. This is a tactical advantage you should never forget. Lets say your kid is in front of the TV watching professional wrestling. It’s bed time. The child refuses to go to bed until after the match between The Disgruntled Mailman and the Very, Very Large Samoan. But you must enforce bedtime, and you cannot allow leniency for what is not even a championship match. The kid will cry. You will yell. But never forget that you have the option of simply picking the kid up, carrying her to her room, and depositing her in her crib or bed.

Take advantage of this while you can; soon she will be just as likely to carry you somewhere.

We have all known parents who spend all their time screaming at their kids. Or worse, parents who ignore their kids while the little brats go on their merry way destroying things or themselves. Just treat your child a bit like a dog, and you won’t be one of those parents, and you won’t have to keep your kid on a leash.

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