Not too long ago, I was watching my youngest daughter man-handle one of the family cats. It’s not that she was being particularly rough with the cat she calls Sunni; rather, she was just not being very gentle. It was like she felt an extreme trust that the cat would not scratch or bite her and truth be told, I doubt the cat would. There seems to be an unspoken understanding and trust between the two of them and neither seems willing to cross the invisible line that makes comfortable co-existence possible.
What about you? Have you ever watched your children interact with animals, especially baby animals? For the most part, in my children’s lives, they have only ever had adult animals around, but there have been four occasions that I know about, in which they had the opportunity to interact with baby animals. The first time was with a litter of puppies, there were two times they got to play with a litter of kittens and most recently, they got a chance to interact with bunnies. What was and continues to be so interesting is the enormous difference in reaction each child has to animals of any kind.
My eldest daughter tends to walk away from critters, no matter what species or what age. When it comes to baby animals, she will say they are cute and she might even hold one for a little while, but she is always wary of all animals. In her early years, she was terrified of dogs of all shapes and sizes, but we used emotional freedom techniques or EFT about six years ago to eliminate that fear and so now she is not afraid of dogs. However, even without the debilitating fear, she is still not a huge fan of them and now she just maintains a healthy indifference to animals, although when it comes to birds, she really has no use for them whatsoever.
My younger daughter, however, just gravitates to baby animals whenever she gets a chance and she almost drinks in their cuddliness and cuteness. In fact, she seems overcome by love when she is around baby animals. When I watch her interact with animals, and it’s not just baby animals, but really all ages of animals, she has a way of just becoming one with the creature. Her entire demeanor changes and she becomes a very happy person.
So, the reason why this is interesting to me is because of the difference in my children’s sense of self in all aspects of life. Now don’t get me wrong, both girls are very self-confident and self-assured by most people’s standards, but they have a distinctly different sense of self and they come at the world in very different ways.
One is very much a reformer, fighting against injustice and inequality wherever she goes; on FB, she constantly posts about social justice causes; whereas, the younger one (the animal lover) is very much a peacemaker wanting everyone to get along and have fun; her FB is filled with images of people hanging together and having fun.
Moving over to my stress management research for a moment, I have done a fair amount of investigation into the different types of pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy for addressing various stress-related issues and I was amazed to see all the ways animals are used to help people cope with life; it really is very inspiring.
Of course, most people have heard of seeing-eye dogs and maybe you’ve heard of equine-assisted therapy, involving horses, but I was very surprised to learn about dolphin assisted therapy as well as programs involving rabbits, birds and even fish. Dogs, of course, are used most often with programs like assisted living and visiting seniors, but one of my favorite methods of enlisting an animal’s assistance is to help children learn to read or at least to help children become more comfortable with reading.
But how does this relate to a child’s personality type? Well, I have long believed that all children must be assisted in learning to deal with stress. Stress is a reality of life and it is often a much more destructive force than many parents are aware. I feel that one of the top goals in raising children must be to protect their mental health and give them the tools for managing stress.
In modern times, we spend a lot of time wondering what to do about physical health, especially in regards to the childhood obesity epidemic, and we spend far too much time, in my opinion, worrying about the cognitive development of children, since children are natural learners and they would learn plenty in or out of school, but we do not spend nearly enough time worrying about the state of their mental health. In fact, we do plenty to muck up their mental health making the other two achievements nearly impossible.
It seems as though we just believe, when it comes to stress and stress management, that they will figure it out over time or if something bad happens, they will just grow out of it. Of course, this is not at all a reasonable assumption about children and I feel it is imperative that we change this dynamic. One possible solution is to blend the concept of animal assisted therapy with a better awareness of the different types of children who could benefit from the assistance of animals in helping them learn how to process stress and grow up to be stress hardy and resilient.
In the case of my eldest daughter, animals would be of no use to her because she always had a very well developed sense of self and a general lack of interest in animals, but my other daughter would have been greatly assisted by my having had a stronger awareness of the possibilities of pet therapy when she was younger.
In the case of reading, my eldest daughter has always been an avid reader and she knows she is a good reader, but my youngest hates reading and has never considered herself to be a good reader. At different times, I have asked her to read out loud to me and I have asked her to summarize what she has read in order to test comprehension and on the surface, she has no reading challenges or barriers at all. Yet, in spite of this, she still thinks of herself as a bad reader, which is all it really takes to mess with her self-image no matter how accomplished her skill level.
In other words, she reads and comprehends above grade level, but somehow in the early days, she confused her dislike of reading with her reading ability. Had I known about animals being used to assist children with reading back then, I would have always insisted that she had an animal with her when she was reading anything because animals put her so much at ease. She may have had a completely different experience of reading in those early years.
The take away here is that every child has a different personality type and a different level of mental health within that personality type and both of these factors play into every single thing a child learns as they grow and develop, but regardless of these differences, all children must be given the tools and resources to beat back stress, in all its many forms.
Maybe, like my youngest daughter, your child can overcome some kind of developmental barrier just by allowing or encouraging simple interaction with therapy animals and that will serve to reduce stress in some important way.