Only a few years ago, I would have argued that I did not have “a way” with children. When all my teenage friends were eager to babysit, I would sit at home content with not having any extra pocket-money because the very last thing I wanted to do was hang out with children, much less be responsible for them.
But as mine have grown, and I’ve been stranded on week-long trips with 25 of their classmates on busses, in hotels and in canyons and forests across the US, I have noticed what other parents and teachers are talking about. I DO have “a way” with them.
When I sit and think about what that “way” is, exactly, all I can come up with is that I expect a lot from all children. And they know it. I expect them to act their age, not like younger children and not like older ones. I can be flexible but I have rules. And kids can sense that I will be your biggest cheerleader, your fiercest advocate, your most creative collaborator and your emotional rock – whether you are my own child or not.
I treat kids with respect. I ask their opinions. I ask them about their feelings. I encourage them to use words and make a plan before rushing to action. I ask them questions to help them think through their problems instead of jumping in to save them from what they can handle on their own, with a little guidance. And I hold them accountable for their actions.
I do not do for children what they can do for themselves.
It’s not rocket science.
A year ago, I rescued 2 German Shepherds. An older male and a female puppy, Grim and Tula. They arrived at our home within 2 weeks of one another and had not previously met. Why? I don’t know – it just happened and I have never been sorry. The only way large dogs (or any dogs, but whatever) are fun is if they are trained well. Otherwise, they’re not fun for anyone and not welcome at people’s homes or in public and they cause more stress than they help relieve.
So, without realizing it, I started treating the dogs like I treat children. I guess it’s because that’s the only way I know to teach and help someone or something grow into the best they can be. The bar is set high, they have to earn privileges and I don’t put them in situations where they are set up to fail. The result is the same, my family and friends invite the dogs to their homes and I take them as many places as I can – kids sporting events, dog bars and restaurants, parks and lakes. Tula even got invited to represent her breed at Macy’s in the Galleria mall – twice.
Are my dogs perfect? No.
Are my kids perfect? Not at all.
Am I the “Kid/Dog Whisperer?” Nope.
The challenge will be for me to evolve my style as my own kids and their friends grow and as new rescues come through my home – because everyone has their thing. The approach is the same for every child and every dog. But the application is not one-size-fits-all. Some need extra attention, some are more independent but still need to know you’re there to catch them if they fall, some need more boundaries and some can wonder a little further from your reach – I’m talking about kids and dogs.