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Parent to Parent

by | Feb 27, 2019 | Voices of Davidson

Betsy Flagler and Typo

Wisdom I absorbed as a parent, preschool teacher, and syndicated columnist rings true with lessons I learned from an unlikely source: our beloved rescue dog. Here’s how:

My husband brought an orphaned puppy home after work — unannounced. He wondered whether his surprise was a mistake. But the pup, peering up from a mail crate in the front passenger seat, had me with her puddle-like brown eyes.

We named her Typo.

The first parenting lesson: Trust your gut feelings. If the concept of letting your child “cry it out” doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. But define a bottom line with your spouse. For example, baby starts out in a crib in your room but not in your bed.

Typo made nary a peep her first evening. When she finally cried overnight in her new nest, nobody heard her except me. I was relieved, though, that she felt safe enough to whimper. No way could her new mom let her cry.

A second lesson: Don’t get caught up in the parent trap of comparing children’s milestones. Who sleeps through the night first, who is potty-trained first, it all becomes a blur as your child grows up and new worries come into play.

Typo, a mix of Australian shepherd and chow, arrived house-trained at six weeks old thanks to her breed, but unlike her genius cousin canines, she never got beyond the commands of “sit, stay, shake.” At prompts to find hidden objects or fetch, she just looked at you with her big brown eyes and crocked her head as if in wonder. Lots of unconditional love and soft fur but no rolling over, this girl.

A third lesson: Recognize with kids that if you use bribery to correct behavior, be prepared to pay up again and again. Instead of bribes, teach and model the behavior you want to see. Use praise and affection and you’ll receive it in return..

Similar to a whining child who wants mom’s attention, Typo was disruptive and barked when I was on the phone in her area of our house. Unfortunately, she learned from my mixed signals that if she barked while mom was on the phone, she got a treat to hush her up.

A fourth: Set up a routine and train your own sensitivities to read your child’s cues before she gets hungry, tired, anxious, or overly stimulated. For our dog, certain barks meant certain things: one for food and several for the UPS deliverer, vs. the other extreme: pacing and barking with anxiety over fireworks, kids coming at Halloween, or the worst: stormy nights. That’s when she always broke the rules and sneaked into our bedroom to sleep. We pretended not to notice.

Typo had sufficient communication skills: Shoes on? She was at the ready by the back door. Jiggling keys meant a car ride. At the mention of “puppy camp,” she whipped into a frenzy; she loved to visit her kennel. “Matthew’s here” meant her “litter mate” from day one was home from college. And she well-knew the phrases “Daddy’s home!” and “We’ll come back.” Because we always did.

Betsy Flagler

Betsy Flagler, a retired newspaper designer, parenting columnist, and preschool teacher, has lived in Davidson for nearly 20 years. Her husband, Mark Washburn, is recently retired from The Charlotte Observer. Betsy and Mark live in Bailey Springs.

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