My favorite training technique for my new puppy is called the “settle.” I sit with my foot on the dog’s leash, close to his collar so that he can’t stand up, which forces him to settle himself down. This keeps him out of trouble for awhile and gives me some peace and quiet. I’m supposed to do this for about 20-30 minutes each day. At first he really resists, pulling at the leash, biting at my feet and whining, but after awhile he just calms down. After a few days, the pulling and resisting become less and less until he willingly just lies down. Pretty soon, all I’ll have to do is to say “settle” and he’ll do it on his own, without a leash.
Like everything I’m learning through this training process, it gives me a lot of insight into training children. My students, just like my puppy, are full of energy. They are capable of learning a great deal in a pretty short period of time, but are also capable of being incredibly destructive, not to mention really annoying. They are naturally chaotic little beings, not really able to harness their own energy and not particularly interested in doing so; it’s so much more fun to talk and play!
Just telling them to be still is not enough– every day I have to “settle” them for a period of time, keeping my foot on the proverbial leash. I do not allow them to get up and move around, raise their hand, go to the restroom, or get a drink as they work on a given assignment. I use firmness, my position as their teacher, and consequences to make it uncomfortable for them to “strain at the leash.” As they sit, outwardly restrained by the instructions and restrictions I’ve temporarily placed upon them, they must do the work of calming themselves inwardly, denying themselves the freedom to do whatever they feel like doing.
Of all the things a person learns in life, this ability to calm oneself by refusing to give free rein to personal desires, feelings, energies and preferences has to be one of the very most important. By denying ourselves and delaying the gratification of our desires, we become stronger, capable of harnessing our own abilities and energies into worthwhile pursuits and goals, and giving us true freedom.
Try it with your child this week. In spite of his pulling and resisting, calmly insist on his quietly “settling” himself for a period of time each day. I think you’ll find it’s a wonderful gift to you both!