‘Train your Baby like a Dog’, which airs next week (Tuesday 20 August at 8pm), teaches parents how to use clicker training normally used on dogs to train their children to be compliant with treats.
In the one-hour pilot programme, dog trainer and animal behaviourist Jo-Rosie Haffenden uses her dog training techniques with three-year-old Greydon, who is experiencing daily tantrums and violent outbursts, and 18-month-old Dulcie who refuses to sleep in her own cot.
Autistic Inclusive Meets, a not-for-profit organisation for families with autistic children and autistic individuals has started a petition calling for Channel 4 to cancel the programme, which it argues is ‘dehumanising’ to children.
The petition, which so far has over 5,100 signatures, states, ‘The children are shown no dignity or respect in clicker training behaviourism, and will be a prime target for grooming in the future as they will have been taught to comply to an adults’ demands, regardless of their own comfort or autonomy for reward.
‘Clicker training is used in the behavioural therapy Applied Behavioural Analysis used on autistic children. It is shown to cause PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in adults that were subjected to it.
‘The children as far as we know in this show are not autistic. However, no child should be treated like this.
‘Children are not dogs!’
Those that have signed the petition include David Wright of Paint Pots Nurseries and author and speaker Mine Conkbayir, who specialises in the neuroscience of early brain development.
Many have expressed their views and concerns about the programme on Twitter.
Research scientist and the founder of Connected Baby Suzanne Zeedyk, said, ‘Train your baby like a dog. This @Channel4 prog [sic] is drawing considerable controversy. I do often say we see babies as a different "class"of human. Imagine a programme called "Train your elderly father like a dog" or "Train your wife like a dog".
‘The programme planned by @Channel4 is really drawing gasps, even in this social media age : Train your baby like a dog. Perhaps the extremity of the language in this title can help us better see our cultural default in thinking about babies: as requiring training.
‘@Channel4, if you would be willing to have a conversation about why people are worried about this broadcast, there are many of us who wold be happy to speak with you’.
Mindful Magic Movement, a mindfulness and meditation programme for children and parents, tweeted, ‘@Channel4 shame on you for upcoming programme "Train your Baby like a Dog"…bizzare, absurd and quite frankly dangerous. Let’s not go down this route please. If you know anything about #childdevelopment, you know this is wrong and detrimental to children and parents.’
Melanie Pilcher, policy and standards manager at the Early Years Alliance said that ‘children should not be treated in the same way as dogs’.
She explained, ‘Children’s social and emotional development is grounded in the way that adults respond to and nurture them. They need consistent messages, clear boundaries and guidance to intrinsically manage their behaviour through self-reflection and control.
‘Rewards such as excessive praise or treats may provide immediate results for the adult, but do not teach a child how to act when a prize is not offered or provide them with the skills to manage situations and emotions themselves. Instead a child is taught to be compliant and respond to meet adult expectations in order to obtain a reward or for fear of a sanction. Rewards and sanctions need to be used very carefully.’
A Channel 4 spokesperson said, 'The programme explores a new approach to childcare, grounded in positive, science-based motivational techniques that are used widely by parenting coaches and animal behaviour experts.
'Throughout filming and broadcast, the welfare of all contributors in the programme is of paramount importance and the process is supervised by qualified child psychologists.'