The dog trainer looked me in the eye, as our unruly puppy ran wild laps of the backyard with a freshly dug-up camellia sapling in her mouth, and said, ‘I hope you’re not planning on having children.’
Within moments of arriving at our house, this woman, a canine behavioural specialist, had spotted our inadequacy in the area of discipline, long before my husband and I had seriously considered starting a family. Ouch – that hurt!
According to the trainer, we were the problem – not our rambunctious, destructive pup. We loved our puppy so very dearly, but apparently, there was too much love and not enough boundaries. And it was for this reason that our pup was figuratively (and literally) running circles around us.
Contrary to the trainer’s unsolicited advice, we eventually had children, two daughters, now aged two and three years old. And although our house is regularly a scene of chaos, I’d like to think we’ve got a decent handle on all our dependents, human and canine. However, I’ll admit that teaching our lovely Misses 2 and 3 years about how to behave, and how not to behave, has proven to be much trickier than I ever imagined it could be.
Recently Miss 3 years announced she wanted some new rules in our house. I asked my daughter what those rules should be and she rattled off a list that consisted of some of her worst offences to date: don’t hit, don’t throw food, don’t try to spill your water, and no jumping on the couch. It was sweet – and fast-forward ten years and I’ll look back fondly on the days when these were her worst offences – but it was eye opening too, because it reflected the fact she herself wants, and needs, to understand our expectations of her. I’d say this is true for most children. Striking the right balance can be quite a challenge though: too few rules, and your children will run circles around you and leave you feeling out of control; too many, and you’ll be the one running in circles around your children and most likely still feeling out of control.
It seems obvious that raising children who respect others and understand expectations hinges on your own positive role-modelling. But it was not until I had my own two children that I came to appreciate just how incredibly active children’s minds can be. Your children are always watching you, listening to you … copying you. Try as I might to lead by example, I’ll ’fess up now that there are days when I fail miserably at this task. There are days – and I suspect this is true for all but the saintliest of parents – when I am frazzled or exhausted, when my darling angels have unleashed the most devilish behaviour they can fathom, that my own behaviour can be anything but model-like. On those occasions, after losing it, I’ll recognise I’m the one who needs a Time-Out – a little breather in the bathroom or, ideally, a lie-down in the bedroom. If things have been especially grim, I’ll walk right out the door, smoke pouring from my ears, within moments of my husband arriving home from work. By the time I reappear from my Mummy Time-Out, if my husband knows what is good for him, our darling daughters will have eaten, been bathed, dressed, and are quietly, productively occupied (okay, we’ll leave it at watching TV), and there’ll be a glass of wine on the counter with my name on it.
As outrageous as the dog trainer’s unsolicited advice about parenting was, I can see now there was a nugget of truth in it. Discipline, for dogs and children, is equally about providing love and setting boundaries. And we’re learning more about how to achieve both every day that passes. So much testing, inappropriate behaviour, from the terrible twos to the teens, comes from a child’s desire to express their independence. One of the first sentences both of my girls uttered was ‘I can do it’ – which can be frustrating words to hear from a child when you are just trying to keep things moving – but it’s a sentiment I try to respect and encourage. After all, isn’t that what’s at the heart of parenting – the ultimate goal being that your child can head out into the world as an adult understanding how to love and respect others, and knowing right from wrong?
More articles from Ginny:
Allergies: What’s all the fuss about?
The Early Days
Not water – Tears
No Judgements, please
Triumph or Trauma
Riding the Merry go Round
Friends, Near or Far
When is Enough, Enough?
My ( Child’s) Kitchen Rules