This one is for all of you Cesar Millan fans out there. For those of you who don’t know Cesar Millan, his nickname is The Dog Whisperer; he seems to have an incredible knack for understanding the psychology of dogs of all breeds and temperaments. He works to rehabilitate them, not terribly unlike what the Supernanny tries to do for families.
One of the basic tenets of his philosophy is that because dogs live in groups (called packs), they establish a hierarchy amongst themselves. Some pack members tend to be more innately dominant, while others are more naturally submissive. He teaches dog owners that no matter what breed or temperament of dog, all dogs need three essentials, in descending order: exercise, discipline, and affection. He also teaches that all dogs can be rehabilitated to achieve what he calls calm submissiveness.
Calm submissiveness is a state of being whereby the dog is prepared to willingly follow the will of its pack leader. Its central nervous system is relaxed, rather than hyperactive. The dog eagerly submits to the discipline of the alpha dog--the "boss" of the pack.
Cesar teaches dog owners how to achieve a calm submissive state in dogs by relying on calm assertive energy. Rather than using techniques that use excessive force or a domineering or bullying attitude, he teaches the owners to use calm assertive behavior. That is, the own establishes himself or herself as the pack leader through consistent discipline and does not engage the dog when the dog is in an excited state. Rather, the dog only gets the owner's attention when in a calm, submissive state.
The parallels to parenting are striking. Children crave parental attention, but many parents inadvertently give them attention when they are in a state that should not be rewarded--overly excited, rude, obnoxious, and most importantly, attempting to wrest dominance from the parent.
It is the parent's job to establish dominance with the child. Yes, dominance. I explain this concept in great detail in Desperately Seeking Parents. For now, understand that establishing dominance does not require aggression or hostility; rather, it requires calm assertive behavior, paired with clear expectations.
OK, I know your kids aren't dogs. But owning a dog isn't all that different than raising a human child. At least in some important ways. Think about it.