Despite calls to cancel the programme, Channel 4 aired its new documentary “Train Your Baby Like a Dog” on August 20. To give a brief synopsis of the show, an expert dog trainer (yes, a dog trainer) told parents to use dog training techniques with their young children to shape their behaviour.
This included putting a child in a different room when they “misbehaved” and bribing them with treat foods to encourage good behaviour – including sitting obediently on the floor like a dog and being called a good boy or girl.
It may sound ludicrous, but there could be serious consequences for parents repeating this advice. Babies and toddlers need loving support to help them understand and regulate their emotions and behaviour as they grow and learn. They can’t help their “challenging” behaviour – such as waking at night or crying. Babies only have so many ways of communicating and processing what is going on around them.
No one particularly relishes another sleepless night or trying to soothe an inconsolable baby. But how to best deal with this? Well, in contrast to this programme’s advice, evidence suggests that when parents are responsive to their child’s needs – by recognising when a child is tired and needs help sleeping, or is overwhelmed and needs help calming down – their children go on to have fewer behavioural problems, higher IQ scores and better social interactions with their peers.
When the needs of babies and children are met in a gentle way, they feel secure and develop confidence and self assurance. Meeting their needs with empathy appears to help them develop their own empathy and emotional intelligence.