Ever hear of a "horse whisperer" or a "dog whisperer"?  What if you could learn how to "whisper" to your children in the same way, helping them (and you!) lead calmer, happier lives?

      The screen fills with an image of a snarling, slavering Sheltie or a craven, cowering Labrador whose human families have nearly given up in despair of having this once-desired and still-loved animal fit well into their homes and lives. The "dog whisperer" enters with calming confidence to help reestablish peace between master or mistress and mutt by observing the dog and educating and training not the dog, but the owners.

      The expert dog whisperer never expects dogs to be anything but the pack animals they are and systematically insists that a good owner will likewise accept the true nature of the dog and the irrevocability of the dog’s instinctive behaviors. The dog whisperer LOVES dogs – that is plain to see in his ready smile and open affect – and he takes joy and pleasure in observing the ways members of different breed express their authentic natures.

      He is also completely determined to help any unruly or neurotic animal toward acceptable behavior by:
(1) accepting his own Alpha pack-role in relationship to the animal and therefore the responsibility for the management of unruly pack members and the reward of cooperative ones;
(2) generating a spirit of peace and calm from INSIDE HIMSELF to establish this pack leadership; 

        (3) transferring that calm, orderly spirit to the pack through a combination of confident fearlessness and reassuring self-control expressed in body language, simple commands and reassuring sounds; and
(4) delivering affection, consequences and rewards in a consistent manner. The dog whisperer does not operate on fear or anger and never, ever backs down once the issues of control, territory or dominance are engaged.

      It strikes me that most parents – whether of toddlers or teens – could learn a lot from the dog whisperer. Naturally, children are not animals any more than parents are mere animal trainers; but these four principles upon which the successful dog whisperer operates surely have application in the human parenting context.

      How many times have you watched a frustrating encounter between an overwrought child and a well-meaning (but reluctant) parent who has allowed that child to become over extended or over stimulated? Rather than have the I’m-the-Mom/Dad attitude, the parent seems to want the child to take the "alpha role," to make the decision, to follow a rule that has been spoken (or screamed), but never enforced.

      How often have you experienced a totally frazzled day with your children and known deep down that their inability to hold it together actually reflected your own interior dishevelment?

      Expecting our children to model a greater sense of calm or peace than we actually are experiencing on the inside denies our leadership role in the pack. Very often, all our children do is mirror our own interior woes. All too often, they get punished for acting on what we’re actually feeling and modeling for them. We have it backwards.

       Obviously, it takes more than a simple article to address all the concepts, methods, methodologies, but I’d like to point out one thing: we’re talking about "child whispering" here not "child shouting" or "child browbeating."

      Probably the sanest thing for any parent to do is to accept at the outset that a child’s behavior is her own. The parent cannot really control a child’s behavior: only the child can do that.  Responsible, wise self-control is what we want for our children to be able to exercise.  

      The parent can help teach a child to understand himself, to self-soothe, to communicate with others civilly, to listen, to express her own needs clearly, to know the names of feelings and the words that will get them real help in real emergencies. A parent can model a thousand other personal qualities and ethical values and life skills and allow the child to scaffold off grown-up expertise until their own can be firmly established.

      No parent accomplishes any of these things through shouting or browbeating or intimidating a child. The fear generated by those negative parental behaviors shuts down the learning process and leaves the child feeling desperate and less in control of himself than ever.     

      So, what are some practical steps you can take now to become a true "child whisperer?"

      (1) Have a support network (a good friend, a spouse, a mentor, a homeschooling or church buddy) who will help hold you accountable when you fail to act upon your own Alpha role of being a responsible leader for your children and who will pray for you as you come to grips with the demands of this leadership role and the changes you must consent to inside your own thinking and behavior as you embrace your Alpha identity. This is one of those places in life where you have to commit to it despite your doubts and trust that as you need the strength and ability to do what’s necessary, those things will come.

      (2) Learn what a child is and is not, what is typical of each age and each stage of development. The dog whisperer never asks a dog to be a feline, nor that a puppy behave as an adult dog. If you set your expectations for your two-year-old based upon what’s working with your ten-year-old, God help you. If you set your expectations of your teen based upon what "everyone else is doing," God help you.

      If you set yourself to listen to and observe your own child deeply, thoughtfully, prayerfully – learning the thoughts of his heart, the patterns of her physical needs, the rhythms of the fits and starts of his growth and development – then, God will help you, indeed! You’ll be trying to find out how that particular child should grow and when and how. Your child’s Creator knows all this and will disclose it to your heart so that you can learn how to "whisper" back to your child the truth of who she is, the value of his person. You will see a leaps-and-bounds sort of growth in your relationship with your child as you become this sort of intentional, attentive parent.

      (3) Learn about yourself: how your inner insecurities and fears about parenting can be reflected in things like your own ambivalence about discipline or self-discipline or conflict, in your posture and physical stance when relating to your child, in whether your instructions, explanations and word choices reflect the real needs of the child or some unmet need of yours. This necessary honest self-examination is what every good parent must yield to at some point. Your commitment to personal growth can be both a good model for your kids and a healthy model for them to emulate.

      Develop your own mental affirmation list that begins with these words: "I am being a good parent when....." Affirming yourself for having to make hard decisions and for consistently delivering boundary-enforcing rewards and consequences is a big, big part of being successful as a "child whisperer." If you are very fortunate, you’ll have one or two other people in your life who will affirm those things for you, too.

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