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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Is your kid afraid of animals?



Mom_friendlydog Even if you don’t own a dog, their abundance can make it tough for parents of a child who is afraid of them. Clearwater child psychologist Ruth Peters has seen this first-hand when her cocker spaniel Annie greets patients when they enter her waiting room.

“We’ve certainly had some kids jump,” said Peters who has treated children with all sorts of phobias using what psychologists call “successive approximations.” “Basically, it’s baby steps to a goal,” Peters said.

The good news is, it doesn’t take a therapist to fix it and you can see improvement in a matter of weeks if you take some time — about three times a week for 10 minutes at a time — to work on it. But the onus is on the parent to make some time to address the problem. Without intervention, it can become a real quality of life problem for a kid who has to cut off play dates for friends with pets.

Here’s the doctor’s prescription:

Step one: Have a neighbor with a friendly little dog help you. Start by taking a walk to their house and looking at the dog who is safely behind a fence. If even this gets a child upset, use the yoga breathing technique (in deeply through nose and then out through mouth) to calm him. Shorten the distance to the fence a few feet at each visit.

Step two: After visiting the dog from a distance two or three times a week, get to the point you can walk up close to the fence. Encourage your child to develop camaraderie with the dog. Bring treats.

Step three: After developing a through-the-fence relationship, have the neighbor hold the dog and stand there talking casually. Sometimes parents’ own discomfort with dogs can be the source of this problem, Peters said, so watch your body language. Gradually work toward getting the child to pet the dog while the neighbor is holding it. Be careful not to go too far, this is a gradual process.

Step four: Once the child is comfortable around the neighbor’s dog, take some walks in the neighborhood, look for friendly dogs of all size and their owners and teach the child about safety, asking permission to pet a dog.

With consistency, this fear can be overcome, but it also requires maintenance, Peters said, of making a point of seeing a dog about once a month to reinforce the lessons learned.

-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne

[Dirk Shadd -- Times photo: Milly sure looks friendly.]

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:05am]


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