Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Question #13: Children = Cats (better than Children = Dogs)?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 13: Would it solve anything to treat our children less like dogs and more like cats as a positive step toward treating them as humans?”

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I felt obliged to read up on dog training in order to write this with confidence. (I had a step-dog in high school but have not truly owned one in terms of being part of training, daily routine, etc.) Dogs need training, and by all accounts do poorly without at least a few of the basics. Verbal and edible rewards are a cornerstone, and affection is best delivered in moderation to preserve a sense of pack order with the dog at the bottom of the totem pole.

By contrast, because our culture so ceaselessly tells us not to bother training our “aloof” cats, anything they do learn is a pleasant surprise. We work around their quirks and if any pack order is to be found, the cat is typically curled up on top of it, rendering it impossible to read.

Let us lay out a few scenarios to see how dog vs. cat owners might respond, and which response, in turn, would be a good fit for a human child.

(1) The creature has done something amazingly cute and wonderful.
Dog owner: (loudly) “Good job!” Pat pat pat. “Do it again for a biscuit!”
Cat owner: (surprised) “Whoa. Hey, honey, come see what the cat did! You funny cat, can you do it again? No, you’d rather take a bath? Ok.” Returns to regularly scheduled program.

(2) The creature has done something bad. Something very disgustingly messy and bad.
Dog owner: (loudly) “No! bad dog! Stop that!” Dog looks ashamed. “Go to your crate.”
Cat owner: (surprised) “Hey, what’re you doing? Ugh, stop!” Picks up cat, cleans up mess, returns to regularly scheduled program.

(3) The creature is blissfully entertaining itself in the backyard. The owner tries to get its attention and fails.
Dog owner: (loudly) “Sparkie! Sparky! Come here, boy! Sparky, come! That’s a good boy! Good boy!” Pat pat pat.
Cat owner: (off-handedly, without any expectation of success) “Hey, Sparkie, psst, hey, Sparkie, want to come over? No? You want to keep rolling in the garden? Ok, have fun!” Returns to regularly scheduled program.

(4) The creature jumps up onto the owner’s book-occupied lap lovingly.
Dog owner: (loudly) “No, down, boy! No jumping on couches.” Removes dog.
Cat owner: (surprised) “Hey, how’s it going?” Snuggles for awhile, returns to book once cat curls up or hops down.

The dog owner’s responses are good for a dog. They lend the rigid structure a dog craves and ensure a happy dog-loving household.

Not so good for a child, however.

Saying “Good job!” without any specific action-directed praise is known to be a bad parenting move, as is any form of extrinsic reward system. (Read more on that here.) Time-outs as traditionally done (child separated from parent against their wishes and prevented from returning for a set period of time) are likewise not good. (Read more on that here.) A self-entertained child is not to be interrupted if at all possible. (Read more on that here.) And obviously kids need your affection and unconditional love when they ask for it. (Read more on that here.)

What I like best about the cat owner’s response is the sense of granted independence and lack of expectation. The cat will act as it will, and the owner does not seek to change the cat directly; if change is required, the owner changes the environment instead.

This could work. What do you think? Cat people, dog people, am I missing something?

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