Turns out that man’s best friend is actually mom‘s best friend: If parents acted a little more like Fido, says Detroit family therapist Harper West, M.A., they could better control their kids (and not, uh, bark at them so often). Author of the book Pack Leader Psychology, West is here to share the behavior and discipline tactics we can learn from dogs. Check ’em out!
Be a leader 1 of 7
"All social animals, including dogs and humans, have an innate need to belong to a group that has a clear hierarchy and a leader," explains West. "Most child misbehavior problems—such as excessive tantrums and arguing—occur because the child has taken over as pack leader of the family. Consider the words and behavior you use around your family. A few simple things can communicate security: consistent discipline, calm communication and dependable family schedules."
Don’t look for approval 2 of 7
"A dog owner knows the welcoming wiggles and looks of adoration from Fido," says West. "Humans also innately seek acceptance by others. However, as a parent you should not look to your children for approval. You are not their friend. If you want your child's approval, you will be less likely to enforce consequences or be firm. Instead, you will use negotiation, permissiveness and capitulation. These tell your child you are weak; children want clear limits, rules and structure far more than they want you to be their friend."
Teach respect when they’re young 3 of 7
"If puppies play too roughly with an adult dog, the adult will promptly growl or nip to teach the pups that they have become disrespectful," notes West. "The dog doesn't respond merely to punish the puppy or to hurt it; it does so to educate and communicate the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Just as a dog would, if a child is behaving disrespectfully to you, call that behavior out right away. Many parents argue endlessly, negotiating about when to go to bed or how much longer to play video games. If is a child disrespectful, calmly and firmly say: "You are behaving disrespectfully to me. I will not discuss this with you now."
Don’t back down 4 of 7
"When dogs are serious about communicating, they get right to the point," says West. "First, they sniff and size up the other dog. If they sense a threat, they charge, growl, snarl, then bite. They decide who is more dominant, then relax." Most parents today talk far too much and act far too little, she continues: "Words may seem powerful but endless explaining, threatening and lecturing are signs the child has power over you and controls the conversation. Use your physical presence to signal your serious intent. If you have to discipline, do not yell across the house. Walk over to the child, stand assertively in front of him and address him face to face. Calmly and firmly tell the child once what you expect, maintaining eye contact. This is far more powerful communication than an avalanche of words, especially with young children."
Expect submission 5 of 7
Picture a puppy rolling over and showing its belly to an adult dog, suggests West. "The puppy is communicating submission. Young children are also naturally submissive, and will do a lot to avoid your disapproval. But when parents push too hard to demand submission in their kids, they often get the opposite and defiance can assume. Assume the best in your child—that she wants to please you and submit to you. This attitude tweak will help you feel more naturally in charge, and signal to your child that you are."
Show no weakness 6 of 7
The best pack leaders are fearless protectors, according to West, so you want to avoid phrases that signal you are feeling weak or overwhelmed. (Think: "Your whining is driving me crazy" and "Mom is just exhausted keeping up with you today!" and, your favorite and mine, "I can't take it anymore.") Says West, "Kids need to believe that parents are capable, strong and dependable. If you announce you are anxious, your child will wonder if you can keep her safe. She might try to take charge herself, and misbehavior could result." This doesn't mean parents have to be perfect (as if): "Just act competent and in charge and when in doubt, stop talking to avoid oversharing feelings."
Make training last a lifetime 7 of 7
"Adult dogs train pups in correct behaviors to reduce conflict and ensure survival of the pack," says West. "Human parents should also take the long view! It may seem easy to give in to a tantrum, screaming match or silent sulking. But think about what you are teaching your child: That if he pitches a fit, he gets his way. In 15 years, how will friends, colleagues and spouses view your child's behavior? You are actually doing your child a favor by being firm, consistent and patient, no matter how much he misbehaves. Be the pack leader parent."