Monday, October 30, 2006

Power Struggle

I've read the books. I've seen the Dog Whisperer on TV. I know the dos and don'ts of establishing yourself as the alpha dog. But with Kodiak, I was never quite able to do it. He was my first dog and I acted like a total little kid with him. He was a friend to play with – not a creature that I had to control and discipline. I left the hard stuff to Peter, who was undeniably the alpha dog of the house.

The Dog Whisperer says that when you come home, you should ignore your dog for several minutes, maybe 10 or 15, to let him know that he's not the centre of the universe and that you will deal with him in your own time. Where is the fun in that? The knock-me-over-tail-wagging-happy-happy-happy dog greetings were one of the big reasons I wanted a dog in the first place. And nobody does happy greetings better than Kodiak.

We didn't let the dogs sleep in our bed although I did let them nap on the guest room bed. And when Peter went out of town, it was a dog-fest in the guest bed because I was too chicken to sleep in a room at the back of the house alone. I know that are other examples of situations where I ceded some power to Kodiak in order to have a more fun relationship with him.

The arrangement worked because Kodiak listened to me just as much as he had to and we spent the rest of the time goofing around and wrestling and cuddling. I knew I was trading some authority for canine friendship, but that was okay. It was a choice I made and as long as Kodiak heeled nicely on the leash and didn't pull me into traffic when he found a squirrel to chase, there was no harm in our arrangement.

With my nieces and nephews, I'm seen as one of the fun aunts – half-kid, half-adult. I'll do silly things and play games and am just generally fun. Hey, it's a tough job, but someone has to do it. As long as the kids remember that I'm an adult, we get along just fine. The troubles come in when they decide I am just a playmate.

I've noticed this happening more often with my six-year old niece, since I sometimes mind her and her sister when their parents go out. She's a great kid, but she's gotten this idea that I'm there to be her playmate, not her minder. As long as we're playing games and having fun, things are good. The minute I have to become an adult, it all breaks bad.

When Peter and I took the nieces to the movies, it was going pretty well until we were on the way back to the car. We had to go up this escalator/moving sidewalk thing. My niece decided to dash up the thing, giggling all the way, playing a fun catch-me game. Only it wasn't the time or the place. When I caught up with her, I told her that she couldn't be running around like that now, that we were about to go into the parking garage and she had to be careful and listen to us because I didn't want her to get hurt. In short, this was not the time for messing.

She went into the sulk to end all sulks. On a scale of 1 to 10 on the sulk-o-meter, the kid was racking up at least a 17. The pout, the refusal to make eye contact, the refusal to speak at all. I have absolutely no patience for that and had to hand her off to Peter for the walk to the car.

I don't know what the answer is. Peter and I agreed that I might need to let him do more of the bad-guying, since she responds better to him in that department. But really, that's a poor solution because Peter's not always going to be there. Any advice, oh wise Internet?


At 30 October 2006 at 14:26, Blogger Shane said...

I am mind full of the fact that I am an immature, goofy person while at the same time a father of a high-energy four-year-old. The idea of parents as friends seems counter productive to me. However that doesn't mean that I need to be all stern disciplinarian in order for him to listen to me. I think I've found a good balance.

What I've done is setup clear boundaries, consistent rules of conduct and predictable consequences for not complying. For example, he loves wrestling with me and doing what he calls his "Kung Fu". But he also knows that he can needs to ask if we can play it first (no jumping on my back whenever he feels like it) -- then he must remove his glasses, there is also no punching or kicking and finally he knows that he can only use his Kung Fu to defend himself when he's not playing. If he breaks one of the boundaries of proper behavior -- I gently remind that he that he can either make choices that will lead to having a fun day or he can make choices that will lead to a boring day of lost privileges. You may want to talk to her parents about how they discipline unwanted behaviors and reward desirable ones. You could ask in a fact gathering sort of way to avoid any conflict.

One more thing: ignoring the pouting, sulky child can be a quick way to defuse her. Then when the sulkiness lifts ask and listen to her talk about her feelings. Then try to explain that you were concerned for her well-being and wasn't trying to make her feel bad -- but rather you just want her to be safe.

At 30 October 2006 at 17:31, Blogger Col said...

Shane sounds like such a good dad. :-)

At 6 your niece knows better. She was just being a brat. Ignore the pouty-face stuff and just act normal. She'll cut it out once she figures out it doesn't faze you.

Don't put off the discipline stuff on Peter-- I think in the long term it could possibly make the problem worse.


At 30 October 2006 at 18:10, Blogger Jannie Funster said...

It sounds like this little girl adores you, you're lucky. What a special relationship. Next time you see her give her a big hug and tell her you love to play as much as she does but Safety Always Comes First. Tell her you have a huge responsibility to keep her safe in dangerous places like a parking garage or parking lot and she will probably look at you with new eyes.

Then have a tickle-fest!


At 31 October 2006 at 05:50, Blogger -Ann said...

Wow - thanks! I knew I was asking the right place.

I should have mentioned that at her house, I do ignore the pouting/sulking thing. (Although it never occurred to me to talk about her feelings afterwards. I am not so great with the feelings sometimes.) But it's hard to ignore a kid that you have to shepherd through the parking garage.

We took them to the movies again yesterday (Hoodwinked - very funny and so much better than Barnyard) and it was a lot more smooth. I think it helped that I hadn't been minding them all morning before the film, so we had a nice fresh start.

Shane is a good dad, I will take up some of the bad guying, and a tickle-dest sounds like a fantastic plan. :)

At 3 November 2006 at 22:45, Anonymous Margie said...

I know this is a few days old, and you've already gotten some great advice, but I just wanted to add that a book like "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Faber and Mizlish is a great resource for just dealing with kids in general. It's got a crazy title but it's got very sound advice.

Another thought that pops into my head is that it's easy to misinterpret a child's behavior as something that it's not. If she thought you were all having fun together and she was being silly and goofy, and then you suddenly yelled at her (her perception--not saying that you acted improperly!)for doing something wrong, she might not have even been pouting so much as she was suddenly embarrassed and hurt. I know when I was little, people's opinions of me were very important, and if I felt like someone was mad at me, I kind of shut down.

Just like shy people are sometimes seen as aloof, hurt in a child can appear like other things. If you can keep your heart open to the fact that she's a good kid, and try to keep the lines of communication open, it might help ease through those situations.

Good luck! Your niece is so lucky to have a fun aunt in her life.

At 6 November 2006 at 21:22, Blogger -Ann said...

Margie - That is fantastic advice and some keen insights. I remember that feeling exactly. I think I may be able to look at things from a different perspective next time. Thanks!


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