I’d like to pause momentarily from my usual socio-political commentary to remark upon a subject of interest to all parents: raising good kids.
The reason for the change of subject is because we have a new puppy. Those who have been following my blog know that we just lost our beloved 6-year-old Great Pyrenees / Irish wolfhound to lymphoma. In one of the time-honored ways to mitigate the grief of losing a pet, we immediately got a Pyrenees puppy.
Great Pyrenees, for those unfamiliar with the breed, are livestock guard dogs. While they look like cute adorable fluffballs, the adults are vicious defenders of their flocks. (“Flocks” can include children – a distinct motivation behind my interest.)
Pyrenees are intelligent and independent animals – and because of this, they can be difficult to train. They are huge, strong-willed dogs that need an alpha family. Not everyone can handle raising a Pyrenees.
So what does this have to do with kids? Well, I’m becoming convinced that not everyone can handle raising children either … because they don’t know how to be alpha dogs.
Our daughters are presently 13 (almost 14) and 11, prime ages for teen/tween rebellion, snarkiness and drama. I’ve always heard that girls are easier to raise as children, harder as teens; and boys are the opposite. Therefore I took it for granted that the moment our oldest hit adolescence, all hell would break loose.
But no. Typical of our daughter’s contrary nature, she’s decided to buck the national trend for girls her age and remain a respectful young lady. Our younger daughter shows every indication of following in her older sister’s footsteps.
How does this relate to dogs? Well, I just read an article entitled “Who’s In Charge Here? A Lesson in Becoming Alpha,” by Vicki Rodenberg De Gruy. The subject is getting your dominant dog to stop being dominant.
It occurred to me it also works for kids.
In canine packs, there’s always an “alpha” animal. He (or she) is the boss, the top dog, the head honcho. All others are submissive to this one animal. He gets the best of everything. With the perks comes the responsibility of making decisions and defending his position. Unfortunately, many humans allow their dogs to become alpha. Big mistake.
Ditto with children.
Consider the following excerpts from this article … and while reading it, substitute “child” for “dog” and “parents” for “humans” and see where it gets you:
Some families encourage their dogs to take over the “pack” without realizing it. They treat their dogs as equals, not as subordinates. They give them special privileges. … They don’t train their dogs and let them get away with disobeying commands. … Alpha doesn’t have anything to do with size. … In fact, the smaller the dog, the more people tend to baby them and cater to them – making the dog feel even more dominant and in control of his humans.
Dogs need and want leaders. … They want the security of knowing their place and what’s expected of them. Most of them don’t want to be alpha – they want someone else to give the orders and make the decisions. If his humans don’t provide that leadership, the dog will take over the role himself. …
In order to reclaim your family’s rightful place as leaders of the pack, your dog needs some lessons in how to be a subordinate, not an equal. You’re going to show him what it means to be a dog again. Your dog’s mother showed him very early in life that she was alpha and that he had to respect her. As a puppy, he was given a secure place in his litter’s pack and because of that security, he was free to concentrate on growing, learning, playing, loving and just being a dog. Your dog doesn’t really want the responsibility of being alpha, having to make the decisions and defend his position at the top. He wants a leader to follow and worship so he can have the freedom of just being a dog again.
Maybe therein lays the secret of our success (so far) with our children. We’re the alpha dogs in the family, and our kids know it. They have not challenged our authority; or rather, when they try it, we put them back in their place as the subordinate dog. No problem.
As the article points out, “alpha is an attitude.” Kids, like dogs, watch you constantly and read your body language. If you’re not in control of a situation, they pick up on that instantly and play it to their advantage.
I heard a Dr. Laura call recently in which a woman wondered what to do about her “sweet” 5-year-old son’s temper tantrums. Dr. Laura asked the mother how she handled the tantrums. The mother improvised, “Now Johnny, tell me what’s the matter. Johnny, I need to know why you’re upset. Johnny, I can’t help you if you won’t calm down. …”
Then Dr. Laura asked how the father handled his son’s tantrums. “He swats him on the rump and puts him in his room,” the mother replied, and admitted the boy behaved better around his dad.
“Then you need to start acting like the alpha dog your husband is,” advised Dr. Laura. “The dad’s punishment is swift and terrible. Your husband is being alpha. You need to learn that too.”
It drives me nuts to see families whose children rule the roost. I had a close association with one such family – the stories I could tell you would curl your hair – and every time one of these kids would hit, sass, curse, or flagrantly disobey the mother, my tongue would get bloody from biting it. It’s no wonder this woman kept losing friends as people got tired of having their own children tormented by these undisciplined brats.
My advice to parents whose kids are out of control: Buy a really good dog-training book. You won’t find any namby-pamby feel-good save-their-self-esteem junk – just good sound sensible advice on how to be the alpha dog.