Q&A: Handling Kids and Pets

Each week Michele Borba answers your parenting questions right here on her blog. If you have a parenting problem or question leave a comment on this post and you may have yours answered next week!

I have a 20-month-old boy and a 6-year-old dachshund. He will not leave her alone. I have tried everything from redirection to timeout, but he continuously tries to hit, poke, and throw things at her. No matter how many times he's corrected, he goes right back to it. I'm at a loss for how to keep peace between my boy and my dog. Some suggestions would be great.
-- Carrie

You win on most original question I think I've ever had. I hope I'm the right person to send this to (dog trainer might be another bet). Other than fencing the dog and child apart, here are my two cents.

You've done everything right, Mom. (Spa day!). Using timeout for a 20-month old generally has no benefit. He's too young to understand "cause and effect." In a few months it will kick in and it may work but for now it's not helping.

Since you've tried so many options and have been so darn diligent, try focusing on the dog instead -- not your child. Really. Your son does have the beginning (way beginning) seeds of empathy. This age can recognize distress in a voice tone and on your face. So do this (every every time) and see what happens: The minute he pokes the dog, totally ignore your child and focus on the dog. Exaggerate your concern. "Oh... are you all right? Oh, do you hurt? Oh, I'm so sorry. Are you sad? What can I do to make you feel better?" Keep petting the dog (while ignoring your child). Keep talking about the hurt.

My bet is your son will come over and watch you. They are little copy cats at this age so use it to your advantage. Show all the ways to be concerned and show sympathy. The trick is to help your son realize that what he's doing "hurts"...and he can make things better. I'm also betting he will copy your behavior. Then reinforce the heck out of any little effort he makes to help the dog. You are reversing the behavior.

Let me know. Hope it works. It's a behavior trick for younger kids. And you're reframing the attention. The other way actually gives attention to your son - but in a negative way. That young age can't distinguish between the two and sometimes all the timeout and redirection is more of a game to them.

Meanwhile, please write this up in your baby book. Take photos. These are great moments to give to your son for a wedding present - at the rehearsal dinner. Save them. Meanwhile smile. It only gets better.

Hang in there!

Have a parenting question for Michele Borba? Leave a comment below and your question may be answered next week.

Dr. Michele Borba is the author of No More Misbehavin': 38 Difficult Behaviors and How to Stop Them .

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