What was all the fuss about?
Having watched the Channel 4 programme where Jo-Rosie Haffenden, a dog training expert takes the understanding and techniques she uses with dogs to modify children’s behaviour. I remain as outraged as I was prior to actually seeing it all played out, and deeply saddened.
I am left with a very real concern that it all looked ‘reasonable’ as it was not especially ‘dramatic’ in TV terms. That is if you are able to discount the deep distress both children displayed. Now my fear is that many parents, carers and professionals are truly struggling to see what all the fuss is about.
After all, 3 year old Grayden who was extremely distressed and lashing out regularly did become eerily quiet and compliant after the training techniques were applied to him. Baby Dulcie was also transformed by the chocolate drop rewards and accompanying clicks, along with some calm common sense around her food, and fears about sleep. Understandably that seems like the quick fix answer. But, a bit like trying to see Wally in a Where’s Wally picture, without actually knowing what Wally looks like. The lasting underlying harm being done to the children wasn’t obvious, without some knowledge of early brain development and attachment theory.
The Mirror online shared these social media comments,
But other viewers thought the outrage was ridiculous, with one tweeting: “These people losing their minds over this is she hurting the kids? Are they in Danger ? Is their health at risk ? No but these parents are in desperate need of some help with their own nightmare situation so who are you to judge their methods #trainyourbabylikeadog.”
While another wrote: “Watching @Channel4 #trainyourbabylikeadog It actually makes sense!”
Let’s un-Where’s Wally this!
With the first family, Mum is heavily pregnant, and there is a 3 year old. Mum and Dad say the little boy’s behaviour is driving a wedge between them. They both want him to learn to control it and to play independently so they get time to focus on the new baby and to do what they need to do. Jo-Rosie works on this.
The first Wally here is that the child’s emotional and developmental needs and stage are ignored! A glance at early brain development shows us that 3 years old have very little prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain (not fully developed in males until nearly 30 years of age!) where the impulse control, able to reflect, think things through and understand consequences sits.
The second Wally is that we are all wired to be near others, ESPECIALLY as children, hence attachment. It’s especially strong in children as it is how evolution/nature ensured the survival of the human race. Leave a baby or child alone in the savannah and something would eat it,. A cry or scream is always meant to bring a safe adult (this Wally also applies to the baby Dulcie at sleep time.)
Grayden, the 3 year old is feeling unsafe because he can’t understand the pregnancy but he can sense a change in Mum’s energy, and probably her exhaustion. This is enough to trip his survival response and increase his emotional instability. None of this is acknowledged or addressed, just the behaviour is modified which won’t last and disconnects him from the feelings he had and has and from seeking his parents as comfort on a moment to moment basis, as nature intends.
There’s loads more Wallys but these are the most harmful for this little one:
- Misunderstanding of early development and expectations around independence and the capacity of a 3 year old to control emotions and behaviour. (He just learns to overlook them)
- The timer task in another room solution, takes Grayden’s focus outwards onto the job he’s doing, as once it’s done as then he gets to reconnect with a pleased Mum and Dad. Grayden’s feelings and needs go unacknowledged, unrecognised and muted. This is unhealthy for any child, especially one with a new baby in the house.
Less Wallys for Dulcie
For baby Dulcie, who is finding bath time and going to sleep alone in her cot distressing and scary, along with only seeming to like to eat chips. The solutions are to calmly offer her tiny pieces of a range of foods with no pressure or expectations of rejection. She seems to really enjoy this change so no Wally there!
Once bedtime comes she normally gets very overwhelmed by bath time and being dried, and then hysterical once left in her cot. We see footage of her deep distress which goes on for an hour with Jo-Rosie observing but has been even longer when it’s just Mum.
To address the bath stress, we see Dulcie standing in an empty bath and the chocolate drops and clicker come out. When she does what Jo-Rosie wants her to she gets chocolate placed in her mouth and a click. The concerning Wally here is a total disconnection from her feelings about the bath time, and the separation sadness and fear at sleep time. Instead what’s introduced is a connection with uncomfortable feelings being relieved by chocolate and pleasing other people.
The other Wally is that Dulcie is unintentionally being taught to ignore the feeling she has around separation and the love she had for her Mum. So the risk is that she won’t grow up to value them either, especially if this distract and reward training becomes the norm. The focus isn’t on Dulcie but on how to change her behaviour. It should be on how can to work to make bath time feel safe and enjoyable so Dulcie can have it as something to look forward to. So she experiences it as being emotionally and physically soothing and fun.
At bedtime some common sense does appear as Mum is encouraged to hold the sobbing child. It’s clear Dulcie has experienced real fear being left to scream for long periods in her cot. No real Wally here. Babies experience high levels of stress if left to cry it out!
The 4 Damaging D’s from dog training children
In a short Facebook live I shine a light on why the use of dog training with children demeans, dehumanises, disconnects and defies all the amazing UP-TO-DATE research and science we now have. The behaviourist approach Jo-Rosie uses was developed with training rats to click leavers and seeing how dog’s salivated, when they automatically connected people in white coats with being fed. It’s very old science that’s been proven to work with animals, although it doesn’t fully respect all of them. Using it with children is emotional neglect and should be a child safeguarding concern.
Children are NOT dogs. Raising them is complex. The bottom line is, if we do or say anything to them that isn’t kind then we need to stop! Children deserve our greatest respect. They need us to allow them to feel all of their feelings and be there 100% to bring them back to emotional and physical safety, with calmness and compassion. Chocolate drops, clickers and sending children away from us are big Wallys and not kind at all!