Toby the Teacher: There Are No Bad Dogs, Or Bad Kids.

Toby the Teacher.
This is a story about a teacher. His name is Toby and he has four legs, a furry tail, and he chews everything in sight. Grab your favorite blanket and your favorite stuffy. It's story time with Mrs. Lindsay!

Toby is the fourth dog I've had in my life, but he is the only dog I've ever had that consistently does his business outside, without fail. Now, I could say that he's the smartest dog I ever had, but I really think that I just happen to now be the smartest owner any of my dogs have ever had.

For all the other dogs, I only knew the old-school approach, as taught to me by older, male family members. These were the same folks who believed that if you spank your kid and yell at them every time they do something wrong, they'll listen to you. The wronger the thing, the louder the yell. Well, please don't judge them too harshly; parenting is infinitely frustrating and they truly thought that's how you raised good kids. Their own parents taught them that, and that's the way it was done in many households 50 and 100 years ago. And most of us are fine. (Some are not.)

Now, back to the dog. Common knowledge was, if the dog does his business inside, you put the dog's nose very close to said business so they know what you're talking about, say "NO!" very loudly, and then immediately put them outdoors. They said that would teach the dog that pooping inside is bad and pooping outside is good. Well, not so much. It taught the dogs that pooping in general is bad, and that, if you are a dog, you should probably do it behind a couch so no one sees. (If you are not a dog, I can't even.)

Anyone who was taught that this is the way to housetrain a dog can forgive themselves. One of the reasons we struggle with our past is that we can't shake the ingrained habit that "parents know best," even when we suspect they may have been wrong about some things. It can be hard to shake their advice, even when it goes against everything that you have come to believe. But they are human. It takes much of an entire adult life to leave behind their well-meaning but sometimes misguided ideas, and my guess is that almost the entire field of psychotherapy is built on this challenge.

So, this time around, we listened to expert advice on dog training. It was simple: Do not punish bad behavior; reward good behavior.  Guess what? It also works with humans! And guess what else? The best public school teachers I know use the same approach.

Pretty much all public school teachers know a lot about their subject area, but the most successful school teachers also know a lot about how to motivate their students. What do they use? Many use Positive Discipline, as promoted by Dr. Jane Nelsen. On her website, and in several books, she offers simple tips to help teachers and parents get the most from their kids with minimum frustration and hassle. Her classroom book has been wildly popular among elementary teachers—so much so that a big group of teachers from one of my schools started an online book club last week to read this book together at home. Because they truly care, and they are already thinking about how they can be the best teacher they can, when this is all over.  (Think on that: At home. On their own time. Do we love these people?)

If you're feeling like it's close to impossible to stay positive in general—never mind in the heat of the moment when your kids are driving you crazy—I have a feeling you are not alone. Everyone seems to agree that it's hard to be patient right now. All we need to do is keep trying, move past our mistakes, and hopefully get better every day.

Maybe Dr. Nelsen can help. And so can Toby.