My little boy is very afraid of dogs. How can I fix this?
It’s a good question. I grew up with dogs and never had a bad experience with one and so I was never scared.
Other parents aren’t so lucky but Amberly McAteer at the Globe and Mail has some advice on how to fix this problem:
“The answer is much easier than you think,” says Lewin, who is also the creator of Be a Tree, a school program that teaches children how to behave around dogs. You guessed it, there’s not a lot of moving involved: when a kid encounters a new dog, Lewin’s program teaches kids to stand still, hands at their sides, and “grow roots.”
Lewin says equipping your boy, even at 7, with the tools to know how to react around dogs should take fear out of the equation.
“Kids are so absorbent, we don’t give them enough credit,” she says, adding that although there may not have been an incident, your son’s fears may have been sparked by a scary dog on television or an encounter while at a friend’s house.
She also says to try making a game of dog-child interaction to train your son to not be afraid. “When your boy behaves properly in front of a dog, you reward him with a chocolate or a toy.”
“Sort of like clicker-training for dogs?” I joke.
“Absolutely, absolutely, absoluteyyy!” squeals Lewin, who sounds like a hybrid kindergarten teacher and animal guru.
She says going through all these hoops will be worth it in the long run. “Dogs can be heroes to kids and teach us so much – that’s what this little boy is missing out on if he continues to be afraid.”
Still, the advice of The Globe’s go-to pediatrician is to realize there are no easy fixes and the worst thing you can do is force the issue.
“With a seven-year-old, parents need to be patient and wait it out,” says Dr. Michael Dickinson. “You can’t rationalize with a seven-year-old, and a lot of them will get over it.”
He says that irrational fear in children isn’t anything new, that there’s nothing “weird or abnormal” about it. But if it starts to impact his sleep or his schooling, then it’s time to seek professional therapy.