You may be familiar with the book by Robert Fulghum titled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I’ve been thinking of a twist on this book: All I need to know about positive parenting, I’ve learned from my dog Clifford.

You can put these five ideas to work for you today. Grow your parenting toolbox to create love and harmony in your home.  Here is what I’ve learned from my dog:

  1. First and foremost, I’ve learned about unconditional love. My dog Clifford loves me unconditionally – always. Parents, you innately experience unconditional love for your child. Show him love and empathy and help your child share the same love by modeling giving to others. At New Morning School we recently collected Toys for Tots for children with need at Christmas. That box of toys sat in our lobby. Every little child stopped and looked longingly at the toys as the parents explained we were giving the toys to those less fortunate.
  2. When Clifford cuddles up to me, he is immensely filling my bucket. Teach your child to fill your bucket and others by modeling this behavior. You may have read the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud and David Messing. The message is to learn to share positive compliments with others and do kind deeds for someone else. For example, you might say to your son, “I really like the way you put details in your picture. Look at those fingers and toes on your body and the wonderful colors that you used.” His bucket will overflow!
  3. Do you want an out-of-control child or one who meets the expectations you set? I’ve learned from Clifford that if I give him a command, then I need to follow through. If I give a direction and then “let him off the hook” and don’t follow through, what has he learned? Clifford has learned that he doesn’t need to listen to me. (I did better with this with my children than I’ve done with my dog!) Your life will be much easier if you “pick your battles,” but then lovingly follow through at all costs. There may be some crying or fussing by your daughter, but she will learn an important lesson about listening to you. The next time will be easier, because you held firm.
  4. Food: Feed your son healthy food, just as we do for our pets. If all of the food in your pantry is healthy food, let him choose what he wants to eat. Snacks of peanut butter and veggies, a freshly cut pear, or (and my kids remember this) a frozen, cooked sweet potato will satisfy any appetite. From my experience with my grown children, Heather and Lauren, the healthy habits we modeled when they were younger are how they eat today.
  5. Clifford begs for a walk every day with his big brown eyes. He may know something that we don’t. Did you know that aerobic exercise improves attention, memory and results in better mood regulation? The next time you’re “stuck” with your daughter  – nothing is working to switch her behavior – go for a walk, ride bikes, jump in the leaves. Even 10 minutes of exercise will ease those difficult times.

There you have it: exercise, food, limits, and love. You can’t go wrong if these are in your parenting toolbox.