Pets Can Make Difficult Conversations with Kids Easier
How Pets Can Help with Difficult Conversations with Kids
by Ethel K. Coffey
The pets in our lives bring us much joy. They teach us unconditional love and can lighten up some very tough times with their presence. They make us laugh and bring us comfort. Pets give us the opportunity to focus on nonverbal communication which can pull us into a deeper level of awareness. Pets and children share a special bond. Most children love animals. You can almost always get a conversation going with a child about their favorite animal. I believe pets can help overcome some challenges in communicating with children.
It is sometimes difficult to get a child to open up and discuss difficult issues such as a death in the family, a major change in family structure, or a move. Children frequently act out with anger, irrational tears or silent withdrawal instead of talking about what is really bothering them. Having a pet in the room when you are attempting to communicate with a child about a difficult subject can provide comfort.
Once you’ve opened the discussion with the comfort of a pet in the room, you can gently guide the conversation, allowing your child to communicate and share thoughts and feelings.
Here are some additional suggestions for discussing challenging topics with children:
- Allow the child to stroke a pet during the discussion. Do not demand that the child look directly at you. Your child will hear you and may be more comfortable looking at the pet.
- Introduce the subject when the house is quiet. Let your child know it is very important that you talk with him or her about the subject. Make it clear that you care what they think and want to hear about what they are feeling. You can ask what the child thinks the pet would say about it if he could talk.
- Ask open ended questions. Example: “What are you thinking and picturing in your mind when we talk about the new baby coming?”
- Listen, accept, and repeat what the child is saying. For example; if your daughter says she doesn’t want to move, you can say, “I understand how sad you are about moving. Is that something you can change?” Ask her what you might be able to do to make the move a little easier for her.
- Use the pet as an example. Ask the child to notice what she sees the pet doing to deal with uncontrollable situations.
- Let the child know that change is hard for everyone and it is okay to feel sad or angry about what is going on.
- Use puppets to do the talking. Let your child choose the puppet they think can speak for them.
- If your child enjoys art, ask them to draw pictures about how they feel. If they prefer, you can let them cut out pictures from magazines and label them. (You can also write what the child says under each picture and read the captions together.) You can ask the child to read the captions, or explain the pictures to the pet.
- Encourage the child to keep a daily or weekly journal of how they are feeling using pictures and words.
- Find a good story to read your child that relates to the problem. Discuss how the characters handled the situation and what they learned. (You can do a Google search using key words that relate to the topic, or ask a librarian for suggestions.)
Although not all of these suggestions necessarily include a pet, opening the discussion with a pet in the room can be a great way to relax the situation and bring some comfort to you and your child.
Ethel K. Coffey is the author of children’s books, including “How Meg Changed Her Mind.” She worked as a reading specialist and special educator for more than 30 years. Coffey was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, and currently lives there with her husband David, their dog Baylee and their two cats, Cougar and Benney. For more information, please visit www.inspiredtales.net