We Give Our Dogs This Respect. Why Not Our Kids?

It’s a good thing I get up early, because one of the walkers (with dogs) on our road passes by around 6:30 am. I make sure my dogs are inside and the dog door is closed, so that this woman can walk by in relative peace. Relative peace, I say, because Kiera and Graidy both seem to find it constitutionally necessary to get off at least a few barks each from inside the house.

As the day unfolds, a parade of walkers will pass by. I can pretty much set my clock by their schedule. As they can set their clocks by mine. We’ve worked out an arrangement where we know certain dogs shouldn’t be forced to be on the road with certain other dogs. Because they just don’t get along. And we all plan accordingly; it makes life easier and more pleasant for all of us.

None of us feel compelled to pretend that our dogs like dogs that they don’t. None of us feel forced to try to have them be “friends.” We know it’s nothing personal — some dogs like each other, some dogs don’t. Just like I like strawberry ice cream and Cait doesn’t. Not a commentary on strawberry ice cream or either one of us. Just a preference. End of story.

Not end of story with young kids.

Let me open up a can of worms. I’ve been wondering lately why it is that we are able to calmly and reasonably allow our dogs to avoid other dogs they don’t like, but we rarely think to allow our children to avoid other kids they don’t like. With young kids, especially, we seem to quickly get caught up in social expectations. “It wouldn’t be polite.” “It would hurt feelings.”

If you’re not sure about this, hang out at a playground for an afternoon, or, even easier, just think back to your child getting invited to the birthday party of someone they weren’t crazy about. Did you make them go because you didn’t want to offend the mother or the child?

Or, let’s reverse this. Your child was having a party. Did you feel obligated to “strongly suggest” that your child invite someone they didn’t really like in order not to hurt feelings? How many times have we seen kids forced to play with other children they don’t especially like, because their parents want them to be nice? How many times have we seen parents who force their kids to say they’re sorry, when they are so clearly not, so that others will think their children are polite and well-mannered?

I suspect some do this thinking it’s teaching their kids compassion for others. I don’t believe teaching a child to lie about what he or she feels has anything to do with learning compassion. It sets kids up for mixed messages, and just teaches them how to lie in that circumstance.

Teaching compassion requires that we show our children how to empathize, not how to lie. Forcing a child to say he’s sorry neither makes that child sorry nor helps him learn how to put himself in someone else’s shoes. That requires an entirely different approach and a very different conversation.

This isn’t about drawing a line in the sand and making it obviously known “I like you but not you.” It’s not about needlessly hurting feelings. It’s not about ignoring the value of learning how to deal with all manner of personalities. Rather, it’s about teaching children from an early age how not to deny their feelings. How not to get sucked into behaving in a way they don’t want to (not in a bratty way, but with integrity). How not to let themselves be forced upon in any way by anybody. The repercussions of turning our children against themselves for the sake of others has the potential to carry grave consequences in the long run.

My approach with Cait is to regularly show her and talk to her about what real kindness and real compassion look like. It doesn’t mean that we have to “like” people we don’t, but just as we do with our dogs, it does mean that we give as much consideration and compassion to the person we’re not crazy about as we would to a friend. But we are very clear within ourselves on the different feelings we have for one vs. the other. There’s no pretending. There’s no lying. There’s letting the dogs/kids have their time on the road so all can co-exist peacefully.

12 thoughts on “We Give Our Dogs This Respect. Why Not Our Kids?”

  1. Yes, I agree Tiger Lamb Girl, this is not a black and white subject with one-size-fits-all solutions. Inevitably, tough situations do come up. But each situation brings opportunities for us to talk with our children about perhaps what we might do in their shoes, while encouraging them to talk about what they feel their options are and why.

    Love your approach with your sweet child on how to help her become better at evaluating others. Great life skills to give her! She’s a lucky kid to have such an open and aware mom.

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  2. Hi – I really liked this post.

    Sometimes tough situations come up – and I see them as opportunities to teach my children life lessons like you’ve posted about.

    Like you, I don’t force my children to invite everyone in their class to a b-day party. I do, however, talk with them about the social situation at school – when doing up the list. I try to suss out if anyone who’s not terribly popular is being left out. I then leave it up to my children, if they wish to invite them or not (and not through guilt).

    On V-day, Xmas and other holidays, I’ve taught them they must do cards for everyone – or none at all.

    I’m also a stickler for thank-you cards. I persuade them to do the thank you cards rather than tell them they must be done. Though, I have told them my opinion of not doing thank-you cards;). lol
    Along with ‘good manners costs nothing – bad manners costs a LOT.’

    I’m not convinced, however, that every child has the instinct to suss out a good person from a hurtful one. I have a child who sees everyone as a ‘friend’ – she’s very sweet and totally without malice. We’ve had to teach her a lot of variables to help her learn how to vet people – to help protect her (from bullying, being taken advantage of, etc)

    Anyway, I’m a first time visitor – but thought I’d let you know I enjoyed your thought on this topic.

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  3. Thank you for visiting my blog. This is the first time I’ve visited you. I have to tell you that I am so impressed! I used to teach parenting, and you have got it, at least in this post, right on.

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  4. Good point there, Karen. Although maybe the dichotomy has something to do with the differences in size and sharpness of the teeth and claws of dogs and children.

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  5. Good points Karen…and I do agree with the difference between compassion and lying to one’s self. I have raised my daughters to “trust their gut”…the small voice inside them. Intuition is powerful and not to be discounted. Dogs get it right…always! :) Enjoyed this post.

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  6. Oh my gosh, Nutmeg, that is too funny! What’s the saying? … great minds think alike.

    Jan, as always, your contribution offers a valuable balancing point. I really appreciate that.

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  7. As always, Karen, you make some excellent points. I might add that we have all–humans and dogs–had the experience of growing to like someone we once could not stand to be around.

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  8. I just noticed the name of your other dog – if Finn had been a girl, Grady was on our short list. Any minute now I expect one of my kids to start barking! More on this post in the future…

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  9. Great post, children are incredibly intuitive and their feelings should be valued.
    My lesson: When I was a child I did not have to invite every child in class to my birthday parties. However when it came time for Valentine’s day I made a card for everyone. I know it is commonplace in most schools now that everyone gives to everyone, but it wasn’t when I was small. I will never forget this boy named Connie. He had no friends, not even one. My Valentine was usually the only one he received. My mother made it clear -Everyone deserves to feel happy and receive a card, so you are going to give one to him. Looking back on it now I am deeply grateful for that lesson. I still think of Connie walking home with that one Valentine in his pocket, the one with the heart candies glued to the envelope. I didn’t have to like him, but I am glad I treated him the same as I treated my friends on that particualr day.

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  10. I think the most dangerous thing that it teaches kids to do is set aside the intuitive reaction they experience when meeting another individual. Whether they learn to lie, suppress their real feelings, or interact on pretense vs. genuine desire, the true danger is that they are not taught to value their own insight. That is dangerous! Many of our most important judgement calls have to do with which individuals we feel safe having around. Their own intuition may very well save their life one day. In a split second decision you never want to hear that they second guessed themselves.

    Just as we do every day with our “fur children”, there are dogs we trust with our dogs and dogs we don’t. Often these decisions are made in a split second. If we had to explain it we couldn’t. The tilt of the head, the tightness around thier eyes, the fixed gaze held just a second too long; whatever it may be we don’t question it. We take our dogs elsewhere. It’s as simple as that.

    That power should never be taken away from a child!!

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