Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sit! Stay!

I've written from time to time that a good way to handle the behavior of a child with neurological problems like my son's -- problems that place a child on the "can't" side of the "can't or won't" debate, problems that get worse in the face of emotion and anger and stress -- is to speak as you would to a dog. Sharp tones, but not angry ones. Straightforward commands. A bit of physical business, like a clap or a hand on the shoulder, to gain attention. These are good suggestions, they work on my son, they've kept things calm and uncomplicated.

That is, of course, until we actually got a dog.

What's become clear to me, after a month or so with Princess, our new family pooch, is that talking to your kid like you talk to your dog makes the dog pretty confused. She jumps up when I yell at him. When I tell him to stop, she stops. When I clap to get his attention, I get hers. And maybe as the result of my overlapping behavioral techniques, I think she thinks he's just a weird looking puppy.

Worst of all, it looks like I"m getting confused, too. More than once on recent walks, I've sharply called out a name when the dog had her nose buried in a bush, say, or was pulling to go after a rabbit, or was stuck sniffling the same spot for minutes on end. I've sharply called out a name and wondered why the dog didn't respond, until I realized ... the name I was calling was my son's. Egad! Am I so used to calling out his name in the face of stubborn behavior that I do it automatically? It's bad enough to be calling the dog by the boy's name, but now I'm worried that some day, in a public place, I'm going to call my son "Princess." Maybe it's time to rethink my disciplinary strategies.

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