My husband Rich is training a bird dog. This beautiful, sweet tempered lab serves as little sister to our daughters, so I balked at the idea of using a training method that might ruin her disposition. My husband, the dog man, assured me, the novice, that the vigorous training acts as a crucible that refines and adds rigor to the dog’s natural instinct. “OK,” I said, “just don’t cause too much discomfort and resistance in our angelic chocolate pup.”
In his preparation for training, Rich read books and watched video by the experts. These experts articulated a fundamental dynamic in training: Without resistance, there is no learning. In fact, trainers cautioned that a perfectly compliant dog in session after session of training indicates the dog is not internalizing the lessons you hope to teach.
Then, as we are both teachers and parents, we made the strategically crass comparison between bird dog training and raising children.
A dilemma exists in comparing dog training to child rearing. Most of the aims are not the same. We want our children to think and to reason (and eventually to move out on their own). We do not want the dog to think, but to act by rote (and to stay home where they belong). However, in a strange paradox, in both child and dog, we strive to cultivate the natural instincts of each. In a dog, the instinct might be to retrieve. In a child, the deepest instinct is to do the right thing.
We do not want our children thinking too long or hard about acting on this natural moral instinct.
As teachers and parents, we can mistakenly strive for compliant, grinning children who do not challenge us. Resistance takes many forms in adolescents and can lead to anger, despair, and general discomfort. Of greater concern, perhaps, is blind obedience. With resistance comes learning and transformation.
If we (parents and teachers) understand that resistance often predicates learning, then we can prepare ourselves for the challenge of teaching. We must not only be knowledgeable in our subject areas – we must be gutsy. We must be able to embrace conflict and stand solid in the face of derision. We must simultaneously have the humility to examine ourselves in the face of criticism, while holding the line that is causing resistance in a child.
If we see resistance as the sign deeper learning is happening, we do not fear discomfort and resistance in our children… and certainly not in our dogs.