Dogs are wonderful animals, who are full of joy and love. Many of us have invited dogs into our lives at some point and know how quickly they become such loved and valued family members.
Dogs give so much love to others and love to be loved back in return. What dog doesn’t love a good fuss or play and to be told that they are loved and adored. Dogs are amazing friends. They stand by the people that they love and they protect them from harm. Dogs are also very mindful. They live in the moment and as such are often very happy and content.
The three key lessons that we can learn from the dog are therefore the ability to give and receive, friendship and living in the moment.
Giving and Receiving
Dogs are full of love and are very giving. They often show this by staying close by their favourite people, cuddling up by their feet, next to them or on their knee, frequently coming over for fusses, licking them and wanting to play with them. They are very empathic and when their loved ones are ill or upset, they know and they are quick to offer comfort, in a way that only a dog can.
Dog’s are also open to receiving. They will ask for a fuss or attention if they want it and they allow themselves to receive all the fussing and loving that they need. If they want food, or they want to play they invariably ask for it and willingly accept it.
As adults, people often become more reserved. We can be quick to give our time, love and affection and help to others, but for some reason many of us stop asking for what we want in return and we become less open to receiving some of these things ourselves. Think about when you last received a compliment. How did you respond and how did it make you feel? If you accepted it with gratitude well done. If you felt uncomfortable and brushed over it quickly, why was that?
The problem with not being able to ask for or receive the things that you need is that you can often push yourself too much, to the point where you can reach burnout, or start to resent others from taking so much from you. If this sounds familiar, then it’s time to start looking after yourself and taking care of your needs too. You can’t help others if you become ill.
Ask for the things that you need, don’t expect everyone around you to just know what you need or want. Say ‘no’ to things that you can’t do or that will take too much from you. Ask others to help or take things on that you can’t do. Here is the big one: You are just as important as anyone else. You have a right to be loved and you need to appreciate yourself at least, if not much more than other people appreciate you. The next time someone pays you a compliment accept it as truth and simply thank them. Allow yourself to feel good about it.
How does this affect kids?
Kids learn from their parents. They watch your behaviour and listen to your words and they inadvertently pick up your values and belief systems (see Nurturing Needs With The Orangutan). Do you want your kids to learn that everyone else has to come first, no matter what the cost? By learning to take care of yourself as well as others, you will be teaching your kids to value themselves and take care of themselves too.
Known as ‘man’s best friend,’ dogs are great teachers when it comes to friendships. They are very loyal, they are great company and they look after their people.
It is important for children to know what true friendship looks like, so that they can not only be good friends and develop great relationships with others, but they can also recognise who are good friends to them. This is important, as most children want to be liked and want to fit in with other children. However, some children can be unkind to others, inconsistent in the way they treat each other, letting them play sometimes and not others or asking them to do things that may get them into trouble. If children aren’t taught to recognise and value true friendships, they could potentially be more vulnerable to falling in with the wrong crowds as they get older (see Help Your Kids Find Their Tiger Power).
How the child sees themselves is very important when forming friendships. A child with a good level of self-esteem is more likely to stand up for themselves and make friends with people who value them. By learning how to treat others with respect children are able to recognise when others aren’t treating them with respect.
Dogs recognise when their people are sad and they comfort them. They stand up for the people they love and like to play and have fun with them. They are loyal and don’t leave their friends out or make them feel sad. These are all great qualities for children to learn and to recognise and value in their own friends.
Living in the Moment
Dogs live very much in the moment. They don’t dwell on the past and they don’t worry about the future. Instead they focus on what is happening in the here and now. They look outwards when they go out, rather than inwards, replaying events that have or may happen. Even when dogs get excited or reactive towards other dogs, cats or doorbells etc, they are only reacting to what is there in that moment. This makes them generally happier.
Being mindful is about being aware of what is going on around you. It’s about being able to recognise when your thoughts are running away with you and bring yourself back into that moment. It helps if you focus your attention on what you can see, hear, feel or smell. Small children are often pretty good at this, but they become more caught up in their heads as they get older.
By helping children learn to become aware of their thoughts and become more mindful you will be helping them learn a great tool for reducing stress and being able to regulate their emotions. For more information about mindfulness see The Benefits Of Mindfulness.
Self-care is about loving and valuing yourself. It’s about making sure that you are able to address your own needs as well as others. It’s not selfish – it’s vital. By taking care of yourself you are more likely to be happy and healthy and in a much better position to help others. Modelling is one of the most powerful ways to teach children. Children are more likely to learn to value and take care of themselves if they see you doing that exact thing.
For more tips on how to support your children with their emotional wellbeing download my free guide ‘How To Give Your Kids A Happy Head Start.’