I recently had an addition to my family, no not another baby, but rather a puppy. I have always wanted a dog and despite begging and pleading with my own parents for one, I needed to wait for my 40th birthday to receive a dog from my mother. My dog, Brandy, was my 40th birthday present from my mother. I have learned so many things from my dog Brandy that I thought in honor of Mother’s Day to write an article titled-“What my dog (Brandy) has taught me in terms of raising and working with children”.
1. The Power of a Warm Excited Greeting. One of the reasons people love dogs is that they are always excited to see you. When my kids’ bus comes down the block, my dog’s tail starts to wag, which then turns into a full out wiggle, which ultimately turns into a full body twist as they enter the house. My dog reacts as if she is seeing her long lost friend after 100 years. Now, my dog just saw my kids in the morning, but you could never tell by her greeting. We can learn a lot from Brandy. Everyday, be excited to see your children. Greet them with a huge smile and lots of energy. Make them feel that they are the people that you have been waiting for all your life.
2. Understanding and Using Your Energy. The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, always speaks about using calm, assertive energy. In addition, when a dog misbehaves he reminds the owner not to get tense or angry, but rather to remain calm and assertive. This is also true for children. They pick up your energy from day one. They can tell which parent or teacher they need to listen to and which ones they can get away with things. In addition, understanding and using your energy is very important when children are frustrated or are pushing your buttons. It is essential to remain calm and assertive as opposed to mirroring your children’s intense and out of control energy. By remaining calm and assertive, you will be better able to diffuse the situation and create win-win scenarios.
3. The Importance of Consistency. It is essential when owning a dog to be consistent. You can’t one day allow your dog to sleep in your bed and then the next day change your mind. My son the other day said to Brandy, “Do you want to play the guitar?” Now at the moment, he thought this was cute. But, I didn’t because he can’t expect Brandy to think it is okay today to touch the guitar, but then tomorrow be angry when all the strings are broken because she has touched it. The same is true with children. Have clear expectations for them and stick to them. It is unfair to allow the children to stay up late, but then the next day not to allow it. By you being consistent, routines will be internalized and it will be easier for everyone to follow the rules of the house.
4. Use Distraction and Redirection. The other day, Brandy got hold of my cashmere glove. Did I yell, threaten, or pull it out of her mouth? No, instead I used the power of distraction and redirection. I said in a really high and exited voice, “Brandy, look what I have” and gave her one of her favorite toys. She dropped the glove and picked up the toy. Instead of getting into an argument with a child, try distraction. For example, yesterday my daughter who is eight came in the house crying that her brother was mean to her. At first I was empathetic and supportive, but she kept on crying. I decided to use a different tactic. I said to her, “Tell me about the computer game, FooPets.com”. All of a sudden, she stopped crying and she started smiling as she spoke about the game. Distraction, may not work all the time, but if you can make the new item even more fun and exciting than what the child is currently focused on, your child will go for it.
5. Using Your Attention. My dog Brandy is attuned to my attention. Just looking at her provides her a great deal of attention. When my family sits down at the table to eat, Brandy often comes up to the table. I remind everyone, “Don’t even look at her!” Just by looking at her, you allow her to think there is a possibility of getting food from the table. How you use your attention is just as powerful. Are you just paying attention to negative behavior? If all you notice are the negative incidents, children will learn to misbehave in order to get your attention. For some, negative attention is better than no attention at all and, therefore, they will misbehave to be noticed. In contrast, by paying attention to the good things your children do, you have a better chance of seeing these positive behaviors reoccur.
6. Make a Plan for Challenging Behavior. In training Brandy, there are certain behaviors that, despite my consistency, assertive energy, and use of my attention, are still problematic. For example, when strangers come to the door, Brandy will jump on them. What I need to do is to make a consistent plan for dealing with strangers. Every time a stranger comes by, I will have Brandy on a leash, sitting. I will instruct the stranger not to look at Brandy and I will feed Brandy a favorite treat. Over time and with consistency, Brandy will learn to sit when strangers enter. So how does this apply to children? Make a plan for dealing with the challenging behaviors your children exhibit and stick to it. It may take more time and energy up front, but it will save you energy and give you a sense of accomplishment later on.
7. The Importance of Exercise. According to the Dog Whisper, dogs need exercise, discipline, and love in that order. Without exercise, dogs tend to get into mischief. This is also true about children. Keeping them active and engaged in activities is the antidote to keep them out of mischief.
8. Learning Acceptance. As you can clearly see I love my dog. However, there are things I don’t like. She barks too much in the morning and sometimes barks in the middle of the night. Also, there is a period around 7:00 P.M. that she just goes nuts. Although I am still trying to work on theses issues, I also have learned to ACCEPT that a) she is a dog and b) she isn’t perfect. Learning to be more accepting is something that is essential in all relationships. It is important with your children to accept that there will be things that they say and do that you may not like. However, you need to look at the big picture and not sweat the small stuff. An attitude of true acceptance will allow you to enjoy the ride without being thrown off by the bumps in the road.
9. Treat Each Day as a New Day. People say that dogs have no long-term memory. Each day (and probably each minute) is brand new. We can learn a lot from dogs regarding their ability to forgive and forget. This isn’t something that comes easily to humans. We hold grudges and tend to see people whom we struggle with in the same negative light. For certain children it can be hard to forgive and forget. Some children have bad days. Some children are more challenging. It is easy to get on a treadmill of resentment and not to get off. By assuming that tomorrow will once again be challenging and that tomorrow will also be a bad day, you are setting yourself up for failure. By setting positive expectations and treating each day as new, you are setting a tone for your children of which you can be proud.
Remember, owning a dog is a lot of responsibility. It is hard work and requires early mornings. Also, you don’t always get what you expected (Brandy was dark apricot as a puppy and now she is a Blonde). But, the process is full of love and deeply rewarding. I hope you see your experience in being a mother similarly– one that brings you joy, fulfillment, and a real sense of accomplishment.