One Simple – Effective – Discipline Hack

Have you ever heard of Occam’s Razor? It’s a philosophical principle that, very crudely, means that ‘the simplest explanation is usually the right one’ (read HERE for the full explanation). I don’t know about you, but I often over-complicate things in my life. I’m a pro at coming up with overly complex solutions, often missing the simplest solution that is invariably staring me right in the face (especially when I’m in an Escape Room!).

A good example of this is an ongoing problem I’ve been having with my rescue dog, Nala. Nala is 3 years old, we re-homed her 18 months ago. She is a sweetheart, but her previous owner lived in central London in a block of flats. She was left at home all day while he was at work and is very nervous as a result. She is particularly scared of lorries, buses and other big vehicles. When she’s nervous she barks aggressively. I’m guessing she spent most of her days at her previous home barking through the window at the busy London streets, in a constant state of anxiety. I live in a quiet little market town, but we have a lot of farm traffic, an odd stray lorry and several buses on our roads and I work from home, so Nala is rarely alone. Despite this, she still alert barks a lot. She favours sitting on the back of our sofa, staring out of our window (onto the road) and spending ALL day barking at *anything and everything* that goes past. This behaviour is positively conditioned the more she does it, as every time she barks, the people or vehicles move on. In her mind her barking has worked to scare them off – clever dog! Anyway, this behaviour has been driving me absolutely mad. I had to stop it. I have spent HOURS reading every single dog training website and book I can find, I’ve devoured YouTube videos and TV programmes. You name it – I’ve tried it. We’ve praised, rewarded, calmed, blocked, played, distracted and trained (paying for a professional dog trainer) and NOTHING worked.

A week ago, I found a new dog training blog that was like seeing the sun for the first time. The advice was SO simple, so groundbreaking, but so bloody obvious I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it before. What was the advice? MOVE THE SOFA. That was it. Of course it was! If the sofa was moved she wouldn’t be able to look out of the window (she’s a wire hair terrier/springer spaniel mix, so not particularly big – hence couldn’t see out of the window without the aid of the sofa). Of course, then I had doubts, was it really that simple? Surely not! Anyway, last weekend we rearranged our living room. The window is now well and truly clear of sofas and Nala can no longer see out of the window. SHE HAS NOT BARKED AT ANYTHING GOING PAST SINCE! Such a simple solution, such huge results. I cringe at the hours I put into all the training now. All I had to do was move the sofa, but it was so simple I didn’t even think of it – Occam’s Razor in action.

Why am I telling you this? Because it applies to parenting tiny humans, just as much as dogs! So often we over-complicate our discipline attempts. Remember this though – not everything has to be a teachable moment. Sometimes, making a small, simple change, is the best thing for your sanity and your child’s safety and happiness. Focus on something YOU can change, rather than expecting them to change. I always tell a story in my discipline workshops about a parent who asked me how they could stop their child from touching their TV all the time. I think they expected me to say something deep about teaching the child about safety, respect and the monetary value of things. My advice however was simply “move the TV”. Honestly, why spend time trying to change a little person with limited understanding and impulse control, when you can change what you do, with a much greater – and quicker – result?

So, the next time you need to discipline, remind yourself of Occam’s Razor, or ‘Nala’s Sofa’ as it will now be known in our house – is there a simple solution that you’re missing in your quest for a more complicated one?


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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