Parenting advice from the aquarium: What I didn't expect but needed to hear

Parenting advice from the aquarium: What I didn't expect but needed to hear
©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Parenting wisdom sometimes appears in the most random of places. This week, I was more than a little surprised to be feeling like the parenting powers that be were speaking to me in the middle of the aquatic show at the Shedd aquarium.

I expected to love the leaping dolphins and the adorable waddling penguins, which I did. The refresher on parenting principles, however, was not what I anticipated.

The Shedd has a great program where they adopt dogs from local shelters and sometimes they participating in the land-based portion of the aquatic show. The trainers discussed how training dolphins and dogs is actually very similar. They explained that these principles are used when training either species:

  • Focus on positive reinforcement and encourage the behavior you want to see more of;
  • Mistakes are okay and will happen, but there's no need to dwell on them;
  • Focus on establishing strong relationships by spending time together;
  • Training is a part of ongoing care.

As they listed these, I found myself realizing that they apply in my life, to me and particularly to parenting. There's always room for lots of praise. My daughter is a good kid who does many good things. She also makes some less than stellar choices, and I spend more time than I should discussing those.

Please know that I'm very aware that our children are not animals and crystal clear that raising a child is different from training a dog or dolphin. It's infinitely more complex and I'd venture to say even more emotionally exhausting. But there is science to back these up when applied to human teens.

What they said at the aquatic show is right in line with this article in The Atlantic. It that explains the approach of Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center. He says parents should "positively reinforce the behavior they do want to see until the negative behavior eventually goes away."

And it's easy to think that when kids reach the teen years that they are pretty fully formed. And to some extent, that's true. After all, some them are several inches taller than we are and far more technologically savvy. But the fact is that our kids are not adults yet.

There's a reason that they can't vote or drink or buy a house. They're not fully baked.

Their brains aren't completely developed, as Laurence Steinberg, PhD, has written about extensively.

Teens have parents for a reason.

They need helping learning, growing, and figuring out both themselves and how they fit in this world out. They should learn natural consequences, but that doesn't mean that we as parents can't still keep working on teaching positive behaviors. We can and should keep raising (and sometimes training) them.

You May Also Like: Tips for reducing the drama and increasing the fun with your teen this summer

Prior Post: Summer reading list for teens

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