First: Get Control
Before you acquire a new baby (human, canine or feline) you must completely outlaw violence. Using any form of violence on a tiny vulnerable mostly helpless person who is programed to love you no matter how awful you are, will only teach your young charge one thing: violence. If you were hoping to raise a violent individual who would destroy your peace and happiness, there are many already available for adoption from prisons and pounds. Go adopt one. Bring it into your happy home, give it access to your most precious possessions and then go to sleep with it in your bed. How does that feel to you? Frightening? Insecure? Desperate?
Right. Those are exactly the reasons you should outlaw all forms of violence before you begin to raise a baby anything. Like it or not, if you try to “teach” with violence you will simply create a dangerous adult being who bullies other people and makes them feel frightened, insecure, and desperate. Granted, there are a few remarkably powerful and golden hearted individuals in every species who can endure violence when they are most vulnerable and still grow up to resist inflicting any form of bullying or brutality on others. But realize that their parents are NOT responsible for their decent noble spirits. They were born with it.
So before your youngster is brought home engrave these behaviors on your heart as unacceptable:
1. Spanking, hitting, slapping, pinching, kicking or any form of Physical Violence.
2. Shaming, yelling, humiliating, undermining or any form of Emotional violence.
3. Bribing, bullying, demanding, controlling, sass, sarcasm and any other form of Childish Behavior that you don’t enjoy in strong aggressive teenagers.
You MUST outlaw all forms of these behaviors in YOURSELF and any other caretakers or you will be teaching these behaviors to your youngster who will then grow into an adult and inflict the behaviors on YOU and others. Remember also that one day you may well be the vulnerable one in the equation. It really is that simple. Young people learn to use the behaviors we demonstrate in our treatment of them. They learn to be the people WE are. Nothing more and nothing less.
If you don’t want a child who hits, never hit your child. If you don’t want a child who bullies or manipulates, don’t bully or manipulate your child. If you don’t want a child who screams at you or her teachers, or spouse don’t raise your voice at the child. If you don’t want a teenager who lies, cheats, talks back, backstabs, you get the picture? To raise the kind of person you will be proud of and want in your life, YOU must BECOME that noble person and demonstrate how that person would negotiate the challenges of life every day.
If you are the sort of person who likes to use and defend gentle euphemisms such as “spanking”, “swating their bottom”, “disciplining” instead of the words like “violence” and “child abuse”, then you will need to eliminate those lies from your vocabulary. I know that’s how you were raised. I know you want to honor and defend your parents. Your parents did the very best they could. Honor your parents by doing even better.
Now, if you are feeling angry at this point and beginning to compose a heated response to my words, that’s fine. That’s fair. Write and post your remarks. Call that therapy. If you are feeling desperate and out of control at the thought of never using any of these violent tools to control a young person, that is simply because you were never taught any real tools for discipline. And it is also because you were raised to believe you can control other people. You cannot. You can only control one person in this whole world: Yourself. Obviously you can’t do that very well, none of us can. But realize now that any ideas you had about controlling small people WILL NOT WORK.
Here’s where control comes in in the whole business of childrearing (or pets): BIRTH CONTROL.
That is all. Get used to it. You will NEVER control your child or pet. However, if you can learn and exercise a high degree of SELF CONTROL, then (and only then) you will teach your kids and pets to do the same. But if you find yourself trying to control other people at work or at home this is a sign that you should keep up the birth control and avoid getting pets who don’t live in a glass tank, because you are not prepared to parent. People who want to control others are people who lack self-control. Plain and simple.
Of course, we ALL grapple for control at times and it always seems like we need to control people around us or our environment. And we can change both our environment AND the people in our lives. The thing is we change others ONLY by changing ourselves. How we say and do things can completely change how others react. That is what parenting is really all about. Whether we parent little humans or fur babies, parenting is all about becoming better people ourselves. Its a great challenge AND its a great opportunity.
So let me say again: If you are not ready to become a better person yet? Spay, neuter, use birth control. Then volunteer at an animal shelter or a kindergarten to get your baby fix. When you ARE ready for a lifelong commitment to improving your personal best as a human being, follow the steps below.
Second: Set your Goal
Whether you have chosen to raise a small human, small dog or small cat, recognize the FACT that they are only small and inexperienced. They are NOT toys. They are NOT simpleminded. They are NOT lesser beings. And they are NOT going to stay small, inexperienced, or babies. It seems most of the problems created by parents are simply because we raise those small people to be babies rather than raising them to be competent adults.
Likewise, most parenting problems can be solved by always honoring the innate personhood of your small charge. And by constantly reflecting on how your actions will train your small person to be a decent adult. Here are some examples:
Cute is its own reward
When raising a child, puppy, or kitten, never reward it for being cute or babyish. Of course cuteness is an evolutionary survival mechanism that keeps small people alive through the difficult early years when they have so many needs and demands for our attention that we can scarcely pay attention to ANYTHING else. In short, cuteness is YOUR reward for all the attention your small person is sucking up. It is only natural that you desire the reward of cuteness and want to encourage it. But you MUST be responsible and control yourself. Do Not become so selfish that you encourage cuteness and doom your baby to suffer.
Feel free to enjoy your reward of cuteness. Feel free to hug and love on your small person in gentle ways. Just control yourself a bit. Do Not give treats for any form of cuteness. Give smiles, give hugs, give pats and cuddles. Then pull yourself together and let that awesome cuteness encourage you to do what is best for the future of your small being. Like teaching them good manners so that others will want to love them and be around them, even after they have lost their fluffy cuteness.
Reward Strength & Independence
Most of us adults wish we could be strong, independent, wise and self-controlled. Why then, would we encourage the exact opposite in our small beings? This is simply another example of accidentally rewarding childishness. We feel so good when our little ones want to be with us, prefer our company to most any other, depend on us and show gratitude for each little thing we do for them, that we may accidentally slip into rewarding these behaviors. Soon, without meaning to, we are rewarding weakness and discouraging strength.
So it is our job to control ourselves and our selfish impulses to be needed. Teaching your little ones to be competent adults means teaching good manners. This is true for ALL babies, human and otherwise. Manners are NOT for you and they are NOT optional. Manners are what we teach for the happiness of our babies. This means teaching your puppy to wait patiently to be petted rather than charging and jumping up on friends and newcomers. It means teaching your kitten to play without claws and teeth (kitten teeth and claws are so soft and cute that it hardly seems a problem, but grown cats that don’t control their teeth and claws will make your home a living hell.) And it means teaching your child to wait quietly for your attention unless there is an emergency. Actually, it means kindly and gently teaching your child good behaviors throughout its life with you. Remember always – your little one does not know s/he will soon be a grown adult but YOU do! Therefore it is your responsibility to teach adult norms and behaviors. Likewise, it is your job to be patient and remember that those norms do not come naturally. They must be taught with understanding and kindness. Never laugh at your child’s ignorance. They only lack experience, not intelligence or feelings.
Encourage Emotional Strength
Emotional strength is probably the most difficult to teach simply because most of us were not properly taught it when we were young. So here’s the basic process:
1.Teach them to identify & express their emotions.
2. Teach them to vent their emotions.
3. Teach them to enjoy emotions in themselves and others.
Express and Identify – When a small being gets emotional simply help them name the emotion like this, “Are you feeling sad?” Before long your youngster will be able to correct you when you are mis-labeling, like this, “No, I’m frustrated!” Then you simply accept and acknowledge their feeling as valid, like this, “Oh, yes, it is frustrating.”
Vent – Once your child has identified their emotion and you have validated their right to feel, most young people will be satisfied and simply move past the emotional state. It REALLY is that simple. But sometimes when emotions are BIG they need to get the emotion chemicals out of their system.
Crying is one great way to vent powerful emotions. A good cry can vent grief, sadness, frustration, shock and surprise, relief and even deeply felt happiness. Far from weakness, a good cry is how the strongest adults vent powerful feelings safely. So let your kid have a good cry. A few encouraging pats and a bit of privacy are all they need.
Unless the crying goes on too long. Then they may need to talk because they are likely feeling a tangled knot of emotions that they can only unravel by talking…or a sort of cry, talk, cry talk process. BUT you have rights to feelings too! If the crying is getting on your nerves – say so! Like this, “Feel free to cry all you want. But please go cry in your room because I can’t hear it anymore without getting irritated.” Saying it like that teaches your kid to respect other’s rights to vent while also respecting themselves. Whatever you do, please DO NOT reward or shame ANYONE for crying.*
Running is also a good way to vent emotions. Running and screaming, running and barking, running away and crying are all excellent emotional vents. Jumping or swinging high on a swing, chasing or throwing balls, swinging a bat, splashing in puddles and so on can also be helpful. Sitting still and pretending NOT to have emotions is not only unhelpful, it actually contributes to a LACK of self control in adulthood. Too much restraint during high emotions by oneself or others creates a potential for violence.
Obviously the express and identify steps above are going to be a lot easier with small people who can talk. With puppies, kittens and pre-talking humans its going to be on you to watch for cues and name the emotions as best you can. So this is where your own self improvement comes in big time. We all had difficult childhoods because childhood is simply difficult. Now, as an adult, teach yourself to identify, express, and vent emotions even if its only so your fur or skin babies can have a better childhood than you did. Try not to oversimplify. (as noted above and in other blogs many emotions can look the same without being the same.) And NEVER reward or punish feelings.*
Enjoy – positive emotions are easy to enjoy, but one little known fact is that ALL emotions end with a happy euphoria once properly vented. So if you and your babies are identifying and venting properly even the dark and heavy emotions will give you a happy lift once the darker aspects of those feelings have passed.
NEVER EVER Punish
*As noted above, emotions should neither be rewarded or punished. This is primarily because all emotions contain their own rewards if you can learn to handle them appropriately. Emotions will motivate positive action and positive feelings once the negative feeling have been vented. They are perfectly set up to motivate learning, personal growth, and positive action. But it is also important NOT to apply external rewards because it can encourage fake emotions or wallowing in emotionalism which will ruin relationships with others.
Emotions are neither wrong nor right, they simply ARE. If you and your kids learn to handle them well they are excellent tools. But there is absolutely NO way to bend emotions to fit what you think is right or wrong. Feelings are messages from our bodies. They should be respected, handled and learned from. They should never be repressed and never used to control others.
There is another reason you should NEVER, EVER, EVER punish your kids. Punishment is NOT discipline. Punishment is what happens when discipline FAILS. Discipline is teaching and learning SELF-CONTROL. So if you punish your kids you effectively take away their opportunity for self control. Better that you should punish YOURSELF if your efforts to teach self-control have failed and your youngster has misbehaved or run amuck. Its okay to punish yourself a little because that is still a form of self-control. You can give yourself a little time-out and still feel good enough about yourself to learn better ways to teach discipline to self and others.
So now you have learned the basics. You can focus on YOUR OWN learning and self-improvement. You can sort and handle emotions. And you can focus on discipline as lessons in self control reinforced by rewards. (But NOT punishment!) From there you can find a variety of ways to teach your youngsters with positive reinforcement. You can find some suggestions in the library, bookstore, or pet stores. And if you are patient and give me even a little bit of encouragement and positive reinforcement, I will tell you some fun and effective ways I have learned to teach dogs, cats, and children of all ages in my next blog.