A public television network in the U.K. is facing backlash for recently airing a documentary called Train Your Baby Like a Dog.
The series, on Channel 4, features two sets of parents who struggle to control their young children’s behaviour. Enter animal behaviouralist Jo-Rosie Haffenden, who recommends using dog training methods — like encouraging good behaviour with treats — as a way to manage misbehaviour.
“If everyone parented their child the same way we’re training our dogs, we’d end up with much more caring and compassionate human beings,” Haffenden said in a Channel 4 press release.
In the show, Haffenden can be seen working with a three-year-old boy named Greydon, who has “daily tantrums and violent outbursts.” She also works with an 18-month-old girl named Dulcie, who refuses to sleep alone.
According to her website, Haffenden studied applied psychology and went on to earn a postgraduate degree in animal behaviour. Using her knowledge of animals, she aims to show people similar animals are to humans.
The documentary was announced on August 13 and met with criticism. Prior to its airtime on August 20, more than 30,000 people signed a petition that called for the show to be cancelled.
One of Haffenden’s most controversial recommendations is using a “clicker” to teach kids right from wrong. London-based organization Autistic Inclusive Meets, who started the petition, argues that this is especially worrisome.
According to the dog food company Pedigree, clickers are commonly used to train dogs “to associate the sound of a click with a food reward.”
“The children are shown no dignity or respect in click training behaviourism,” Autistic Inclusive Meets noted in the petition.
In a statement provided to Huffington Post U.K., a Channel 4 spokesperson said that “throughout filming and broadcast, the welfare of all contributors in the program is of paramount importance and the process is supervised by qualified child psychologists.”
“The program explores a new approach to childcare, grounded in positive, science-based motivational techniques that are used widely by parenting coaches and animal behaviour experts.”
The documentary still aired on August 20, and parenting expert Kathy Lynn understands why parents are angry.
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“Your child isn’t a dog. It’s that simple,” Lynn told Global News.
According to Lynn, treating a child like a dog isn’t a good idea for a number of reasons — the first being that the child is a human, and they will argue back if they feel disrespected.
“They need us to set limits, of course, but they don’t need us to be barking orders and giving them treats,” she said.
For starters, Lynn is worried about classifying behaviour like Dulcie’s inability to sleep alone as “problematic.”
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“If a child is crying, it’s because they’re hungry or they’re having a bad dream or they’re afraid of the dark,” she said. “Children cry as one method of communication with parents… and parents need to learn to listen and pay attention.”
Young children don’t yet have the language to explain why they’re upset, and it’s up to parents to understand this.
“A child who’s crying in the middle of the night needs you there,” Lynn said.
In her view, episodes of poor behaviour — like Greydon’s tantrums — are actually opportunities to teach your child how to communicate effectively.
“We need to be raising our kids to communicate with us,” she said.
By treating your child as you would a dog, your child is sent the message that “they won’t be heard,” said Lynn.
“Children aren’t stupid. If it gets to the point where they know that no matter what they say, nobody’s going to pay any attention, some of them will withdraw and stop trying.”
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Other kids will act out “as they try even harder to get their parents’ attention,” Lynn said.
“Neither of these are an outcome we’re looking for.”
Instead, Lynn encourages parents to work with children to determine how they feel.
Lynn also takes issue with Haffenden’s practice of rewarding good behaviour with treats, as one does with a dog.