Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Twerp Whisperer

I have to admit it. One of my secret TV guilty pleasures is the "Dog Whisper" on the National Geographic Channel. I don't watch much television but I have to admit that I try to record every episode of that show. I am always amazed by Cesar Millan's ability to almost immediately change a dog's state of mind simply by his presence. Half his own calm assertiveness and half ensuring that the dog is in the right state of calm submissiveness, it makes for the right mixture for success to happen. In other words, when these two magical ingredients are in place almost anything tastes good. It creates an environment in which successes happen and seem to stick most easily. It is on this foundation that rules, boundaries, and limitations can actually be applied successfully. And, it is this mixture which creates something magical. In the case of the Dog Whisper, it is not only a happy human and dramatically changed behavior but, it also seems to be a happy doggy. It is the rare case of the perfect storm of win - win - win. I have always wondered if the same type of rules could be applied to training humans and most specifically, twerp humans.

It really was nothing more than a thought in my head until Claudia entered our lives. There was no magic. I simply kept my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open. Over 3 short days I have watched my kiddos be transformed. Don't get me wrong, they are still far from perfect, (Well far from perfect from other people's perceptions at least - not my own. But, I have already established my bias!) However, I have been amazed by their transformation, not only when she is here but well after she leaves. Again, it isn't that what she has done is magic. In fact, it is simple really. And, like the dog whisperer, we have seen dramatic results and quite possibly the perfect storm.

Honestly, I could write for hours on the revelations that have come in waves through my mind but I will simply give you an example. First off, I am calm and assertive. Second, before I try any of these techniques I ensure that my twerp is calm submissive beforehand. If she (or he) is not, I wait them out. Regardless, here I go. Last night at dinner the kiddos were worn out. After a day of playing at the park and taking no less than three opportunities to swim in the pool they were functionally exhausted. Exhaustion in kiddos eventually breeds irritability. Sugar and exhaustion is perhaps the worst combination which guarantees tears and obstinateness but that is really not the point. Any way, the majority of us had finished dinner. Graham and Ainsley had hardly touched theirs. It was getting late and Lynley had to clean the upstairs. I needed to get the dishes done and get the kiddos ready for bed. We were running behind. This is really no different than any day in the Dungan household. Lynley and I are always racing to clean something up or to get something done. It is hard to find time to really take the time to concentrate on all of the little kiddo details. It is hard to find the extra 30 minutes to sit down and "help" Graham and Ainsley finish dinner. There is stuff to do and we would much rather focus our energy on them in other areas of growth. There just aren't enough hours and minutes in the day to do all of the things that we WANT to do. This leaves many missed opportunities. Like so many other parents out there in the real world, we find ourselves wishing we could do more for our kiddos but feeling stressed about our days and our work and don't always have the time or the ability to focus on every little detail of child rearing that we would like to. It is normal. Is it not?

I tell you all of this to set the stage. This wasn't a perfect scenario. I didn't have time to go through a 12 step process in this case. I was busy. Lynley was busy. Yet, we still had to feed the kiddos, clean up, and get them into bed.

The goal was to get Graham and Ainsley to finish their dinners. It is always a challenge and always time consuming. It isn't that they won't eat. It is that they are too busy having fun and chatting to remember to eat. Regardless, I put Sydney in charge. I introduced her as the teacher (like Miss Claudia) and her job was to help the kiddos eat the dinner. I explained to Graham and Ainsley that they were the students and had to listen to Miss Sydney. It was a game. I was calm and assertive. Kids were almost calm submissive but the game seemed fun enough that they were more than willing to submit to it. I went to finish dishes and do my chores. I watched and listened. Sydney developed a reward system for the kids. They got a penny for each bite. She was gentle but firm with them. Before I could finish rinsing the dishes they were done with their dinners. All of it! I had spent the last 45 minutes barking at them to settle down and eat. Sydney spent less than 5 minutes and had complete success. I was learning here. I was getting a Miss Claudia lesson and she was not even there.

They asked to be excused. I was ecstatic and said sure. I noticed some food on the floor around Ainsley. She was a messy eater - as usual. I decided to take a cue from the book of the twerp whisperer and calmly asked her to help me clean it up before she left. I got out the broom and dustpan and helped my newly titled 3 year old clean up her mess. She was copacetic. No arguments. No temper tantrum. Hmmm. Going for broke I asked them to go out and clean up the playroom while I finished the kitchen before we went upstairs. I spent the next 10 minutes finishing up my chores and getting water cups ready to go upstairs for snuggles and story time. The play room was spotless. The kitchen was spotless. I was upstairs 15 minutes earlier than usual. Hmmm.

Now, this is were you figure out that I am not as clever as a Dad as I though I was - SuperDad with chinks in his armor if you will. It never occurred to me to handle a night like this. I was always stressed out and too worried about finishing to actually take the time to do these steps. We, the big people, always ordered them to settle down and finish their dinner. We were not calm. We were hyped up after an already jam packed day that was not even close to being over. It was always easier to just clean up the floor. We never had the time or thought that Ainsley was old enough to use a broom and dust pan. The idea was to always just get them off to the next activity that would keep them confined while we tried to play catch up. It wasn't that they had free reign. It isn't that they don't (or didn't) have chores or responsibilities. It was just EASIER given the constraint of time and the mountain of work. It wasn't worth the fight and the tantrum at the end of the day. It was just easier to do it.

But this is where we failed. We failed before we even began. In our hustle and bustle we weren't calm and assertive and without those two foundational ingredients we never would have succeeded. Had I asked (in my usual stressed out, hurried tone) Ainsley to clean up her mess she would have thrown a fit and balked. It would have taken 30 minutes to convince her to help me clean and their would have been significant stress and tears with the process. That response is a direct result of my energy and her level of excitement. However, setting the stage with the right tone and asking her in the right state created the right mixture to make everything happen. It worked flawlessly and was proven by another stab at them cleaning the playroom. It was incredible and created an environment for continued success. It was one of those "aha" moments.

I am by no means an expert. I am learning here. I have my eyes wide open. I can't wait to see what the twerp whisperer does today.

I am purposefully calm and assertive.

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