When it comes to parenting, there’s a full gamut of approaches that one can use in terms of how they choose to raise their kids. How you choose to raise your children can be decided based on a lot of factors: your personality, your own childhood, your partner’s preferences, etc.
Or you can decide how to raise your child based on your pets. Apparently.
The old saying goes that dogs are man’s best friend, but it turns out that dog’s can be mom’s best friend, too. At least in terms of adapting your approach to disciplining both your dog AND your child, so says a new trend.
A controversial new parenting approach applies traditional dog-training behavioral methods to the training of toddlers.
The method is featured on a new reality show entitled, appropriately, “Train Your Baby Like A Dog”. The show debuted on the UK’s Channel 4 on August 20, and was met with an uproar of criticism.
Remember when the show “Supernanny” rose to fame years ago? British nanny Jo Frost assisted overwhelmed families that requested help in tackling tough discipline issues with their children.
Jo’s methods were generally pretty effective, too- chore charts, consistently reinforced “time-outs”, family schedules, and most importantly, lots of love & positive reinforcement.
Well… “How To Train Your Baby Like A Dog” is sort of like that, minus most of the qualities that treat the child like an actual human being.
The method was devised by Jo-Rosie Haffenden, a British animal behaviorist & dog trainer who used it with her own children.
The premise of the show is that Haffenden arrives to assist families that are struggling with trying to modify their child’s behavior(s). After observing the issues in the household, she then teaches parents how to apply her methods in order to effect change in the child’s behavior.
It’s not the modifying of the child’s behavior that is the issue, of course; it’s the fact that Haffenden is using dog-training techniques to do so that has people up in arms.
In one of the opening scenes, Jo-Rosie loudly declares, “Sit!”. And both the dog AND the child promptly sit down… and both are awarded with an edible treat.
This training method also involves the use of harnesses to restrain (“guide”) children, and clickers that make sounds to indicate the behavior expected following the clicker sound.
Haffenden’s claim is that children and dogs are more alike than most of us think. And according to her own words in the show’s trailer:
If everyone parented the way we train dogs, we would end up with more confident, compassionate and curious human beings.
Granted, most well-trained dogs are wonderfully compassionate, fun & gentle animals. But that’s the point- they are ANIMALS, not people.
How automatic obedience translates into creating “curious” human beings here is anyone’s guess, since there’s not much room in this style for a child to be curious or to question anything.
Haffenden’s approach uses many ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) techniques. ABA is used to redirect behavior -sometimes it is used with autistic children- but it is already a controversial method.
ABA already has it’s critics; some people claim it’s unethical. Using an ABA-based technique that treats children like animals is obviously even more controversial.
To no one’s surprise, people are outraged by the concept of comparing children to animals, and training them as such.
In an attempt to withdraw publicity from the controversial parenting method, a petition was created to request that the show be pulled from Britain’s Channel 4.
The focus of the petition is obviously the “dehumanizing” aspect of the method. As the petition points out, teaching kids to automatically respond to adult prompts has the potential to make them:
Prime target[s] for grooming in the future as they will have been taught to comply to an adult’s demands, regardless of their own comfort or autonomy for reward.
Yes, children should know that their parents are the authority, and behave accordingly. BUT- this method trains children to do exactly what they are told, regardless of their own feelings or comfort level.
While dog-training might seem effective in terms of parental authority, “training” children to do exactly what any adult tells them to do puts them at risk from adults with dubious intentions.
And simply put, it kills their sense of free will. Period.
A child may be conditioned to display a positive behavior based on receiving a treat (positive reinforcement) afterward, but once the treat is withdrawn, the associated behavior might fade as well.
While clicker training and harnesses may be effective with dogs (and some dog owners even object to those methods), applying the same methods to children minimizes their humanity, which is precisely why humans and canines aren’t the same in the first place.
The future of “Train Your Baby Like A Dog” show is still in question, but the method itself is for the dogs.