Toddler Behavior: Toddlers Are Like Dogs... Really!

I love that Dog Whisperer show on the National Geographic channel, and not because I'm a dog lover. Watching Cesar focus in on the "parenting" approach of the humans involved is quite similar to my approach with parents of toddlers. He's great at empowering people to embody the authority they already have over their dogs, but are reluctant to use. I see a similar disconnect in the way we parents often interact with our toddlers. We're flustered and upset at the annoying thing they're doing over and over, and we can't understand why they won't just LISTEN to us! We feel like what we say is going "in one ear, and out the other". Either we "baby" them, or we "talk over" them. It's difficult to get the feel for the wacky developmental level of a toddler, but it's essential if we're to gain confidence in parenting them.

Dogs and toddlers are similar in many ways. While they want to "fit in with the crowd", they're certainly not above some very gross and annoying violations of social norms. They need us to shape their behavior, and in return they'll reward us with all sorts of adorable and loving behavior.

Now, don't get the idea that I'm recommending you take Cesar's approach and directly apply it to your toddler. There are MANY things in the Dog Whisperer's approach that WILL NOT WORK with toddlers. However, there are some interesting lessons to be learned from him, including some of these nuggets: TODDLERS (AND DOGS) --

-- CAN'T understand most of your words. They "feel" your emotions and read your intentions via body language. Your state of mind, in the moment, will help determine whether your toddler responds to you -- or ignores you.

-- NEED you to be "in charge". They need boundaries and limits in order to be able to feel safe, and that their world is predictable. Be the "alpha parents"!

-- are VERY FORGIVING. If you start out in the wrong parenting direction, you can usually change course, with good results.

I've been thinking about these similarities for awhile now, so I was tickled to see new research presented this week at the American Psychological Association's yearly convention. Check out the story here if you want to read more about it! It seems that there are some scientifically demonstrable details to back up my hunch about the similarities between our dogs and our toddlers.

I'd also love to hear your thoughts about this...Is your toddler like your dog?

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink