‘Train your baby like a dog’ – The Review

I am a Postpartum Doula, Birth and Parenting Educator and Coach, I have a particular interest in supporting parents with normal infant sleep and toddler behaviour.

In 2012 I trained with both:

Sarah Ockwell Smith – Psychologist with a specialism in Child Development – Formerly BabyCalm/ToddlerCalm and now The Gentle Parenting Series

Dr Vic Montgomery, Clinical Child Psychologist and Toddler Expert – formerly ToddlerCalm.

I am a Parenting Consultant with CalmFamily CIC and have been supporting families with sleep, toddler behaviour and parenting challenges since 2012.

Last week I regenerated an article I wrote years ago, likening baby training to dog training and when I learned about this programme ‘How to train your baby like a dog’ by watching the trailer and programme overviews, I wrongly  assumed this dog trainer would be using some of the harsher methods of dog training and transferring into child training, similar to other ‘experts’ I’d referred to in my former article.

I updated my article to reference this programme and subsequently riled some of the dog training community –  It seems they could not get beyond the fact that I had referenced outdated and old fashioned dog training methods that were not representative of Jo Rosies dog training methods, therefore entirely missing the entire subsequent points in the article.

Jo Rosie is very respected in the dog training world which makes me wonder why on earth she would ‘put her reputation on the line’ by agreeing to be involved in a programme called ‘train your baby like a dog’.  I’m not sure if I’m reassured by the fact that Jo Rosie studied human psychology or completely horrified that despite studying human psychology she still cannot see the harm of using dog training methods on babies and children.

I was pleasantly surprised that Jo Rosie at least educated both families to look for unmet needs, non verbal communication, encouraged the toddler family to make the environment suitable for their toddler and divert to behaviour you want rather than focus on what you don’t want.  She reassured parent of 14 month old Dulcie not to leave her child in distress and crying it out – which had been resulting in exhausted mum persevering for 90 mins of crying – and eventually cuddling her distraught baby on the sofa after hours of persevering with something that wasn’t working. The above points at least show some progress from the likes of  Jo Frost – Supernanny and Tizzie Hall – who train babies and children like dogs – the old fashioned way – just without acknowledging that is what they are doing!

BUT, the title of the show was clickbait and designed for controversy and the narrator was solely there for dramatization of common family situations.  Greydon, a 3yr old with a huge amount of frustration and emotion bubbling under the surface, who consequently also had a newborn baby sibling imminently on the way and 14 month old Dulcie who is struggling with a common but incorrect parental expectation that she should have the skills to self settle and sleep on her own.

Humans develop language for a reason, and what was massively lacking within this program (because it wouldnt have worked with the dog training parallels) was the lack of understanding of developing an emotional language or understanding of human emotion and supporting our growing child appropriately to understand their feelings rather than solely focussing on diverting attention and changing environments.

Jo Rosie completely and predictably  missed and bypassed the relevance of emotional outburst and overwhelm from a toddler in connection with a new sibling on its way, preferring to work with the family towards changing his behaviour rather than understanding and helping to verbalise the huge amount of overwhelming feelings this situation can cause a toddler to feel but not be able to express (this alongside all the other frustrations and struggles a toddler feels day to day can be huge)

There was a complete lack of focus and understanding of human development and the power of modelling behaviour and mindful language rather than training a child to learn to behave a certain way for treats and a lack of understanding of working with a humans innate ability and inbuilt intrinsic motivation and instead, rather boringly feeding into the concept that we need extrinsic motivation and conditioning to achieve socially acceptable behaviour.  Because the latter extrinsic reward system works for dogs and doesn’t cause long term problems with motivation in the same way it does with humans.

We continue to feed adults and society to have unrealistic age expectations.  The programme focussed on encouraging Greydon to play alone for a period of time with the use of a visual aid or egg timer.  A strange approach given this little boy was so desperate for connection with his parents.   Playing alone can be encouraged by parents being present with their child when they are playing rather than leaving them alone with a timer which is unlikely to make any real long term change.  Expecting a 14 month old child to sleep in its own space, alone is also hugely unrealistic – which at least Jo Rosie did verbalise to the viewers.

Perhaps the most alarming situation was the clicker timed with giving chocolate to make something a positive experience for a 14 month old.  Using food for rewards or distraction in humans is very concerning.  The potential for this to cause a long term detrimental impact on that childs relationship with food is huge.  Using clickers and chocolate and how this could be interpreted and misused to address so many situations is concerning.  Where do you draw the line? At what age do you move from food based rewards associated with a click noise to something else and what does half a chocolate button escalate to?

We know from research, extrinsic type motivation tools do not cause long term change.

The conditional language- ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ is so detrimental and harmful if overused in order to gain compliance.  It doesn’t really express what we mean or have any real depth or learning experience and is rather empty words for the child’s learning experience.  It is language that should be reserved only for dogs.  Far more meaningful for humans is the word Thankyou and a simple explanation of what we are thanking the child for – and guess what- if we model the word thankyou enough our children will copy – without being coaxed or bribed.

I could go on. In the end it wasn’t as bad as some of the more harmful experts we’ve had wasting space and airtime, however we still sadly have a really long way to go with raising and understanding humans.

Id like to revisit both families in 6 months, 1 year, 18 months to establish whether any long term significant change has been accomplished.  I’d like to know whether Dulcie now demands an entire chocolate bar before getting out of the bath!

When we raise small people we need to look at the far greater picture of their lifetime, looking at how to encourage good long term well being – not working in the short sighted/ short term change area. Whilst those methods may be suitable for dogs – it’s very short sighted and even limiting for humans to be treated in the same way.

I’m really disappointed this gimmicky tv show was given air time- but not surprised.

I do think we are a nation crying out for guidance in parenting.  It’s such an ongoing challenging role with new challenges arising at different ages and stages – and often what has been modelled and deeply engrained in us adults doesnt give us the skills to raise emotionally healthy children.  I’m sure the show will appeal to a large demographic of parents that perhaps believe some form of child training is necessary – but are looking for more gentle ways and approaches.

Whilst I was not as mortified by the content as I anticipated- I stand by the fact that a human brain and a dog brain are different and the way we nurture one over another clearly needs to be different. It is believed a Dog brain reaches full development between 2-3years and a human brain in its late 20s.  We live in a world where we want to see instant results and we are very enticed by anyone that tells us we can achieve instant results, however this results focussed parenting is completely mismatched with human brains.

Parenting is a long term investment and we are going to see behaviour in the early years that is immensely triggering and hard to accept and guide away from.  It is really important we recognise what is normal, the ages and stages of human brain development, how an infant neo-cortex doesn’t have rational or sequential thought processes yet and how emotional language, intelligence and validation is one of the key tools to good long term mental health for our young children.  Not chocolate buttons and distraction from feelings and emotions……

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