Sit! Stay! Paws for thought

“Ejja ’l hawn, ja wiċċ ta’ kelb!”

Terrible words, which have been shrieked, yelled, screeched, bawled, roared and otherwise shouted in several contexts over the years… but mostly by irate mothers, at offspring who fail to comply with orders, or misbehave.

Ironically, the “latest” opinion proffered to parents puts these mothers of questionable political correctness and observational capabilities, on the right track… except for the pitch and timbre of their tone.

“Be dogmatic” acquires a new lease of life, as the kit and caboodle of child psychology is explained by one Pat Moore, who is a senior trainer at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.

According to her new-fangled theory, which goes way beyond maternal instinct, from the word “go” we must treat our children as puppies are treated. Of course, most of us know the psycho-social buzzwords – positive reinforcement, delay tactics and yet this person expects us to assume that all our children are whelps who need to be disciplined most of the time.

I believe a mother ought never to be a “friend” of her children – we must act, and be, our age with dignity, rather than attempt to re-create our (lost?) youth vicariously. But this is a matter of opinion.

I do not begrudge my friends their mini-skirts and the trappings that go with them. Yet here is a canine expert going even further. Children, according to her, must know who the boss is, and reasoning with them must fly out of the window.

The art of compromise, which most of us strive so hard to acquire, has no place in these teachings. This practice does not credit children with nous or even instinct, apparently. It just says they have a “limited ability to communicate”. We must therefore assume that we know best – which we do anyway, but that is not the way to go about it.

Training a child is tantamount to training a puppy. Stopping just short of an S&M choke-chain secured around a child’s neck, the parents (read mothers) are to take full control ofn their child’s behaviour.

Ironically, this type of “positive reinforcement” includes offering treats such as sweets and toys as rewards… something which could be understood to mean bribes… which we would have been told to avoid in Parenting Skills Courses, had we bothered to attend them.

With all the extraneous, unsolicited advice given to new parents, this could complicate matters further. Ms Moore tells us, with a perfectly straight face, that “… Neither puppies nor toddlers can be expected to immediately know how to behave in certain situations…”

So, what’s new?

Enter the Dragon. Simplified verbal communication – doubtlessly the monosyllabic orders given to puppies – as well as facial expressions and distinctive body language are the keys to having a perfectly-behaved child. Sometimes, you may even “reward” a child with physical affection.

Whatever happened to the “Have You Hugged Your Child Today?” motto? I was under the impression that the human mind is more complex than that of an animal, which tends to operate mainly on instinct. However, attention-grabbing ruses are not the prerogative of children. And choosing to reward them to lessen hassle is not only the choice of parents… have you never been to a Board of Directors or a School PTA meetings? Furthermore, Ms Moore tells us that treats must have an ascending value, because if you use the best treats all the time, they will loose their appeal.

So, I ask – why use “tangible” treats at all? I find the analogy and comparisons between dogs and humans very offensive. There is an old, old story about a child whose grandpa always asked him to choose between a penny and a sixpence. He chose the penny – and the grandfather, impressed, always gave him the sixpence too. Actually, the child selected the penny, at the beginning of this charade, because it was the larger coin – but after a couple of goes realised that appearing to be prudent would net him further benefits.

This, in effect, means that “good behaviour” in many children (I have worked in a school!) could just be a trait, put on for the occasion to impress elders. Then there is the “attachment” issue. Ms Moore says that there is a solution, too, when a child behaves like a dog, attaching himself to a particular plaything without wanting to relinquish it. The thing to do in such a circumstance is to distract him… with something else. Does this not give him the opportunity to attach himself to something else?

I note that Ms Moore stops short at telling us to roll up a newspaper and using it to swat misbehaving children. She wants us to use s stern tone of voice and a dirty look, instead. Is it fair to deny our children their dignity, and use them in our mind-games? Must they have no leeway? Whatever happened to the art of negotiation?

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