I confess, I keep making the same parenting mistake. My problem is I love, LOVE. I love cuddles and affection, I want everyone to be happy all the time, including myself. The first time I learned there was a negative consequence for my constant quest for peace and love was substitute teaching. (Every pregnant Mama should substitute teach before they give birth…very quick feedback in a short period of time!) It was awful: tears, chaos, climbing on furniture, yelling, and the kids were pretty bad, too.
Nice, loving Mommy is always my default. It’s only when things aren’t working, that I have to switch gears and put on my authoritative hat. I used to think I had to be mean in order to get kids to obey me. Trial and error taught me the happy balance between commanding respect while being clear and kind.
Lately, my dog has been misbehaving, showing me that I’ve been coddling and pouring on the love, but with not enough discipline. I started watching the expert in authoritative leadership, Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer. If you haven’t watched him, you HAVE to check him out, even if you don’t like dogs. There is just nothing like this on TV and it is truly FASCINATING. If you are like me and “Alpha Male” energy doesn’t come naturally, these 4 lessons of leadership are key to getting kids and dogs to obey you.
- Calm Assertive Energy – This is GOLD people! Have ever watched a teacher easily manage 30+ kids, cheerfully and effectively, and wonder “How the heck does she do that?” Calm, assertive energy is what we feel when we are in our power. Dogs and kids can sense it and are quick to respect our authority. They may push back, but when we stay consistent and calm, they feel our conviction and they back down. I wanted my son to play fewer video games. If I stay wanting, pleading, bribing, he won’t respond. It’s the energy of a weak leader and kids don’t respect it. If I feel “mean” or “bad” for taking them away, he will disregard my authority. When I physically removed them, wrote down very clear guidelines around when he could play and what the consequences were if he violated the rules, and he snuck them back in! When I asked him why, he said he didn’t think I meant it. He’d figured I would forget like I have in the past. Actions, energy, body language, and consistency, speak louder than words. Think about stopping your toddler from running into a busy street. You are quick to act, clear in your instruction, and 100% convicted and consistent. It’s clear instruction, delivered with assertiveness.
- Expectation – Cesar Milan says, “You need to picture your dog obeying you in your mind.” The dog will respond to your vision. If I look around me right now, I see a computer, a table, a pen, a pillow, and a dog bed. Everything I see, began in someone’s imagination. Vision, the ability to imagine something happening before you see the results, is HUGE! If we believe, “My kids can’t stop bickering” we will create that result by ignoring and tolerating fights. If we imagine our kids getting along, and then we hear a raised voice or a snide remark, our ears perk up and we correct the behavior and stop it before it escalates. We have to imagine that what we want is possible, before we can create it.
- Respect the nature of the beast – Cesar always reminds people that their pets are DOGS first and dogs do things differently than people. To get a dog to comply, you need to understand the characteristics associated with it’s SPECIES and BREED. You can’t have a herding dog, and expect it lie around all day. As parents, it’s important to respect the nature of our children, and their individual personality traits. All kids need to play, move their bodies, have friends, choose what activities they want to master, etc. Some kids are born to tinker, to compete, to create, to talk, to daydream. Think about what your expectations are and make sure you aren’t asking your child to go too much against his or her nature.
- Enter into their world – Cesar communicates with dogs in their own language. He uses body posture, energy, and sounds, and it works like magic! As parents we are so often in our world, with our agenda and time frame, trying to get our kids to put on their shoes and get in the car. Jumping into our kid’s world isn’t easy but it is SO effective, especially when they are young. Let’s say your preschooler is enjoying an imaginary world of cars and flying turtles. If you get down on the floor and engage with her in playing for a minute, then fly the turtles to her shoes, and park the cars along side. With the imaginary world unbroken, it is so much easier to put shoes on and have the turtles fly and into the magical cup holders of the carseat. Let’s face it, their world is often a better, more lovely place to be than our world anyway. Enjoy the opportunity to step into it and get cooperation at the same time.