How a Little Jack Russell Helped Me Understand
Trauma & Comfort
by Susie E. Caron © 5/31/15
Duke is our ‘Grand-Dog’. He lives with us full time now, but he really is our grown up daughter’s Jack Russell Terrier. We got Duke several years ago, and again on separate occasions, whenever our daughter’s career wouldn’t allow her to have a dog. He’s cute, and difficult, and living with Duke has taught me a lot about trauma.
Our daughter called us one day in November to tell us she bought a Jack Russell puppy from a pet shop. She was really sorry but she needed him to live with us soon. She was in the army and the family she had trusted him with had severely abused him. She was grief stricken, so it was too late for me to say “No.”
Kim handed Duke to me just before Christmas. I took one look at him and smitten, I said, “Let me hold my Grand-Dog.’ At 4 months he weighed 6 pounds and was definitely not house broken. He also didn’t bark at that age. That was a brief respite for what was to come because the abuse he’d suffered had over-sensitized him to a variety of human behaviors. He barked loudly, and continuously, and would not stop, at everyone, even us, when anyone
walked into our house.
left the house.
Hugged or kissed
came too close (in Dukes mind) to another human being
when Smoke alarms or any noise erupted
when Bacon cooked or something burned.
It was so awful, we’d often just catch him and put him in a bedroom until he stopped.
As a psychologist I realized that Duke suffered from situational, emotional, and sensory triggers of Post Traumatic Sensory Disorder. He had symptoms that correspond to the three major categories of PTSD.
1. He appeared to ‘re-live’ his trauma in flash backs and dreams. (He cried in his sleep.)
2. He avoided people places or things that reminded him of the original trauma. (What he couldn’t avoid he showed intense fear of).
3. He was easily frightened, often hyper-aroused and ready to ‘go off’ barking at the slightest ‘difference’ in sound or movement.
Disorganized and agitated behavior are also symptoms in children with PTSD. Duke was almost always disorganized and easily agitated. For example: the rake, shovel, lawn mower, snow blower, tractor and snowmobile became his to attack. We had to be constantly watchful because he usually tried to bite the front wheels of any vehicle as soon as it was turned on or moving.
Although we hated the constant eruptions in barking, we became more or less used to him. Then my 93 year old father-in-law came to live with us. He liked dogs okay, but Duke’s sudden fits of barking upset him. It didn’t take me long to realize I had to do something about Duke.
I had just announced my retirement date, so after my last client’s therapy session, I began taking little Duke to the office with me to finish my paperwork. Duke became my ‘sidekick’ and I began to teach him to ‘not bark.’ I did this with gradual exposure to the things he feared and added treats for not barking.
I carried little bits of dog cookies in my pockets wherever I went with Duke. I taught him that if something startled him to find me & get a cookie. It worked! Duke began to run to me every time anything happened that ‘made him nervous’. After a few days, I began adding commands like, ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and sometimes I’d ask him to ‘spin’ before I gave him his treat. He became devoted to me, and barked much less. My father in law even noticed, but something was still unresolved.
Dogs and children have a sense when someone doesn’t like them or approve. My father in law didn’t like Duke’s barking. However, Dad also appeared saddened by the fact that Duke ‘didn’t seem to like him.’ One day last week that changed.
My father in law had just finished his morning coffee in his favorite recliner. Without prompting and for no reason I could see, Duke walked over to the foot of his chair and looked up at him. Dad patted his leg as if to invite Duke up on his lap. Duke hesitated a moment, but jumped up, smelled his hand and instantly got back off. To my surprise, Dad tried again. This time, Duke hopped up, sat down between his outstretched legs and let Dad scratch him, pet his back, head and neck. I held my breath. A long minute or two passed and Duke lay down and sighed then rested his chin on Dad’s knee. Dad smiled.
Duke taught me something about helping him. For nearly 12 years, all the original trauma triggers scared him, and he did the only thing he could do with his fear– he barked loud and without ceasing. When I began to work with him I distracted him to give him a cookie. He’d come to me in a nervous state, but when I gave him the treat, he felt rewarded for coming to me.Those actions helped him to grow less nervous because it changed the result of his behavior. Instead of putting him in the bedroom when he was afraid and barked, which must made him even more nervous, I called him and gave him a treat, so he felt comforted. At first I had to give him a cookie because he would not let anyone reach down to pet him. Eventually I was able to just say ‘good boy’ and pat his head or say ‘I’ll get you a cookie.,” and that seemed to serve as enough reward.
I don’t know how the relationship between Duke and Dad will go from here, but I do know that Duke is a lot less fearful. I had paid attention to him and taught him how to receive comfort. Perhaps that’s why he got up on Dad’s lap. Maybe Duke wanted to offer Dad comfort in the same way he has received comfort – He showed up and offered himself.
Thanks for reading. I treasure you and I hope you find something good in my articles. Remember to share with your friends on social. Thank you!
Twee' means you & me
Susie E. Caron
How to use your ‘smiling eyes’ to help your kids behave.
by Susie E. Caron © 5/24/15
Everyone agrees that Children need good food, a warm dry home, and lots of love to grow and thrive. But did you know they also need lots of smiles and positive eye contact from you? If you want them to grow up feeling valued, cared for, and loved they need lots of smiling positive eye contact. What’s even more interesting is that smiling eyes and positive thoughts can encourage your kids to behave better now.
Brain studies have revealed that when you smile at someone, your smile turns on the reward system in the brain of the person you smile at. When you frown, it turns off. Now everyone knows - what you reward is more likely to get repeated. (I like to say “You grow what you’re feeding.”) So now you know, that whenever you make positive eye contact and genuinely smile at your child you are rewarding him/her for whatever state your child is in. Furthermore, because of this reward, you will likely see more of this good behavior as your child grows up.
You probably already use your eyes to tell to your kids when they need to stop doing something naughty. Most of us know that we send these corrective messages through our eyes, but we often neglect to use our eyes to send really positive messages to kids as well. Your kids need this. They need to see good stuff in your smiling eyes directed at them in order to grow and thrive. They also need you to think positive thoughts about them, while you are smiling and looking at them. You may ask, “But how can I possibly think good things when my kids are misbehaving?” Well they are not always misbehaving are they? Catch them in the in-between moments, especially the moments when they are just being okay; when nothing special is going on. Look at them and with smiling eyes think things like these below:
You are amazing.
I am so happy you are my child.
I believe in you.
I love you.
I’m always so proud of you.
In my work with children and families, I have seen the beneficial changes that positive thoughts and smiling eyes can make. Kids grow to feel better about themselves, they behave more graciously toward others, and as an added bonus, you feel better about your kids. I challenge you to put this into practice and see the difference it makes with your children. With practice you can grow good children by feeding them your smiling eyes and positive thoughts.
Thank you for reading. Could you add something to the list above? Why not add it in the comments below.
Feel free to share this article with your friends and on social media sites. Thank you.
Twee’ means you and me
Susie E. Caron
How to Calm Your Child's Separation Anxiety
by Susie E. Caron © 5/17/15
Has your 4-6 year old child suddenly become clingy and difficult to drop off at school? Does he/she seem over anxious about being away from you? It’s called separation anxiety*. Most often it is due to some developmental changes your child may be going through. I am going to share some of those and 3 steps you can take to help your child regain their confident stride.
*(Note:This information is educational only. (see full disclaimer-right column). If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s behaviors, please do not hesitate to call your primary care physician and psychotherapist.)
Is your child stressed when you try to leave him/her somewhere?
Sometimes 4-6 year old children, who seemed to adjust well to school, baby sitters, and getting dropped off at friends’ homes, begin to show signs of stress when they have to leave the parent.
They may fuss a little or throw pretty significant tantrums and even claim to be ill. There are probably more reasons than we can count for the appearance of separation anxiety. However, I want to share the most common reasons to help you understand. Then I will give you three tips you can use to help your child move through this issue.
Little children do not know how to handle their feelings: fear, worry, anger.
These feelings come from their everyday struggle with life. Around 4-6 years, kids begin to be aware of things like people die, parents divorce and accidents happen. Because the parent is the trusted one they often turn toward you as the one who should be able to cure it all. However, your super cape just does not cover everything. As a result your child's bottled anger gets shoved out onto “bad guys, accidents, monsters” and all sorts of terrible things that could happen to destroy life as they know it. They do not ‘think’ all this out. They worry. So in their minds they reason: “If I can just stay close to Mom and Dad then none of these terrible things will take them away from me.”
What can parent's do to help their children?
Can you see how this kind of ‘separation anxiety’ can cause your children to really fuss about you leaving them anywhere? Sometimes this is even the reason they start climbing into bed with their parents at night, even after years of sleeping in their own beds. So what can you do? You need to address this in three ways: be ‘matter of fact’ about life and address their fears in a special way and offer something concrete for them to focus on.
Your attitude must be ‘matter of fact’ in nature. Don’t get all upset and embarrassed. When your child starts to fuss about not wanting to go to school for example, tell the truth. “I have a job to do and I need to go there. You also have a job to do and that’s to go to school (day care, sitters, bed, etc.) today.” Use this idea for other situations as well. Just tell the truth, without getting upset.
You want to try to guess what’s going on that’s making your child act fearful. Then directly address that fear.
Ask: You could ask, but he/she is not likely to answer because what is feared is more ‘felt’ than an actual ‘thought’. Instead, try to guess. You could say things like “I wonder if you worry that something could happen to me while you are at school (etc.) Watch for a response in your child’s eyes or behavior. Trust your instincts.
Address the fear: You could say “Well I promise you that when you are at school (or other) that I take really good care of myself. I put my seat belt on, I am careful at work. Besides I cannot wait to get home to see you so that _____________________.” What’s the blank for? This is the most important tip.
You will want to fill in the blank for a while, (maybe two weeks) with something concrete that your child will like and focus on. Kids operate in the concrete. So it is not enough of a guarantee for you to say “I will pick you up at 3 o’clock.” That’s too vague. Instead, watch what happens when you add things like “and when we get home we will play Candy Land.” Or “I’ll bring you a new book.” Or “We will take the sugar cookies we made over to Grandmas”
Hook their thoughts to a concrete object.
When you set up a concrete object (game, book, cookies) for them to focus on, they hang onto it and they believe you. In their minds they think, “Oh, if Mom (Dad) is bringing cookies to go to Grandmas, I KNOW she will come get me.) The same kind of offer works for bed time too. Just make it concrete so they have something to look forward to. You don’t have to promise a trip to an amusement park. A simple, ‘I’ll read your favorite book to you in the morning after you get dressed.” Works just fine.
I recognize this sounds too easy, but I have seen these three little changes make the difference in family after family. I believe it will work for yours as well.
Please share this important information with your friends on social and why not leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear your experience or questions.!
Twee' means you and me
Susie E. Caron
The amazing benefit of sunshine & toxic-fresh-air for kids & parents. by Susie E. Caron © 5/3/15
Did you know that fresh air can be ‘toxic’? That’s right! When kids or adults are outdoors and enjoying exercise, sunshine and fresh air, it can have one very toxic effect.
Here it is:
Fresh air, exercise and sunlight help your children fall asleep and sleep much better.
My husband and I joke about this effect on ourselves and we call it "toxic-fresh-air". Of course, I certainly hope the fresh air your kids are breathing is NOT toxic. Instead I want you to know that it has several benefits – sleeping well is one of them. Isn’t that something you want too?
It’s amazing how a little sunshine and fresh air makes everyone feel better. Even kids respond to more time outdoors. If you are a busy parent, working, grocery shopping, running errands, getting kids to sports and other events, you probably don’t have much energy left to keep kids off electronics and out doors. However, as I stated, there are some really good reasons you’ll want to.
Fresh air, exercise and sunlight help your children fall asleep and sleep better, plus other benefits.
Oxygen, and the exercise that causes more of it to be inhaled, has its own medicinal qualities. It clears their heads. It reduces stress and releases Endorphins, which is the body's natural 'feel good chemical.' Oxygen cleanses their bodies of toxins and chemicals that can make them sick. The running, and sweating and heavy breathing is also what contributes to feeling sleepy after they cool down and have a bath or shower. It works this way on adults too.
Sunlight is another sleep helper. When children and adults get enough sunlight in their vision, their bodies produce natural Melatonin. Pediatricians often recommend Melatonin for kids who have trouble falling asleep. This is also the same effect kids can get from drinking milk or eating turkey. However, they don’t have to eat anything, it just happens when ‘sun gets in their eyes.’ About 30 minutes every day is the right amount for Melatonin to develop in their bodies when the sun goes down.
Maybe you think, “That’s great. But how do I get them away from their gidgets and gadgets and outside to play?” The simple answer is to make a rule. For example: Every kid goes outdoors to play after supper. Or better yet “Everyone in this family goes for a walk or bike ride every evening at 6 pm.” Of course, if evenings are too difficult, then shoot for an hour or more playing outdoors on each weekend day. But first, make certain that all the electronics get dropped into a kitchen basket, (even the adults’ cel phones etc.) and go outdoors together. The time you spend out there together will be worth it. You will notice improved relationships and bonding. Time together in outdoor activities helps family members get to know and understand each other better. Furthermore, the quality of sleep you and your children experience will improve as well.
May all your ZZZZZ’s be sweet from fun times in 'toxic fresh air.'
Twee’ means you and me.
Susie E. Caron MA,
Author, Blogger, Podcaster,
Christian, Wife, & Mother, helps build parent-child relationships, 1 blog, book & podcast at a time.
Welcome! I recently retired from combined careers in teaching, psychotherapy, and parent coaching to spend more time writing.
When I'm not busy creating books or articles, you might find me looking for dark chocolate or riding my beautiful horse Apple in the woods and fields of Vermont.
These articles are for educational and self-help purposes only and are not intended as psychotherapy.
If you experience unusual symptoms or discomfort please see your medical or mental health practitioner.
No patent liability is assumed for use of the information contained. The author disclaims any responsibility for loss or risk for use or application of this material.
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Blog Reviews & Thank You!
July 13 at 7:17pm ·
Just wanted to say that I love your posts about the different ways to connect/relate/understand your child. It has given me a new approach towards understanding my daughter and allowing HER to tell me how she feels instead of me suggesting to her how she should feel. Thanks Susie!