My Dog Hates Kids

Care and Feeding is Brinkwire’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I live in a three-flat with my husband and dog, on the second floor with one family above us and one below. Our neighbors downstairs are a kind set of parents with two delightful daughters, aged 7 and 4. We have a cordial relationship but do not know them very well, as they moved in just last summer, and I generally think of neighbors kind of like colleagues rather than friends. However, something has come up and I am not sure what to do.

My dog, B., hates kids. She’s a big black lab mix, about 65 pounds, with a ton of energy and the strength to match. If we’re somewhere away from home and she is off-leash, she completely ignores them, but in her territory, any human under 4 feet tall freaks her out. I feel responsible because she wasn’t socialized around them as a pup, and she’s about to turn 8; she’s got this block and I am pretty sure we’re stuck with it. We can’t exactly tell someone, “Our dog hates kids, but will you lend us some of yours for exposure therapy?”

On Christmas we came home from a ride with B., and the girls were playing in the backyard. Our garage opens out onto a shared back patio, and my husband let her out without a leash to head upstairs with us. As soon as she saw the kids, she set off barking right in their tiny faces. They looked stunned and backed off as I grabbed her collar, mortified, and handed her off to my guy. I talked to the kids to make sure they were OK and apologize profusely; the 4-year-old thought it was hilarious, and her sister was super sweet and seemed fine. Mom called out through the window to wish us merry Christmas and we moved on.

Enough time has passed that I don’t want to make it into a bigger deal than it was. I just want these kids to play in peace without physical or emotional scars. I am more cautious with B. than my husband, and I’ve asked him to always keep her on-leash coming home from the car, but he refuses. What’s your take?

—Please Don’t Eat the Children

Dear PDEtC,

Based on your description of your neighbors, I actually think they might be open to doing a bit of supervised desensitization therapy for your pooch, or at least will not be offended to be asked! I would speak to the parents without the presence of the kids, because otherwise you’re making them be the bad guys if they’d rather not say yes.

My suggestion would be not to start off with having her play with the kids. Start simple, just you hanging out with her on your patio while the kids play in the backyard, until she gets used to their neutral presence. Then, gradually increase contact, as long as everyone is still having a good time and you’re not spotting signs of distress from your dog.

Sudden surprise meetings will set this process back, so I would ask your husband to buy in on keeping her on a leash while you’re working on this. If the parents opt out of desensitization, he really needs to get it together and keep her on a leash. Come on, sir.

Best of luck!!!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter recently turned 5. She has always been a good sleeper and still is. However, in the past month or so she has insisted on sleeping with the lights on. It doesn’t seem as if she has a fear of the dark or monsters in her room or anything like that; she literally just decided that she prefers to sleep with the lights on. The first few nights, we would wait an hour or so until we were sure she was sound asleep and just go in and turn the lights off. However, now if we do that, somehow it seems to instantly wake her up, and she turns them back on. Is this even a problem?

—Lights Out

Dear Lights,

Nah. If you’re not seeing any indication of changed behavior in the daytime (anxiety, clinginess, etc.) and she doesn’t have dark circles under her eyes, just let it ride. If it really bugs you (and to save electricity!) there are lots of nightlights and lamps with timers you can program to turn off later in the evening.

• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a nonbinary person who is trained in child and youth care, specifically marginalized and LGBTQ youth. My coming out eight years ago was not handled well initially by my family, but my advocacy work in my community helped to educate those close to me and most of them are loving and supportive now. My older sister in particular has grown a lot, and now through her I am faced with a conundrum.

Her daughter’s best friend, “Cecil,” age 14, has come out recently as nonbinary. I have connected a bit with them, but I live over an hour away and don’t often get to see them. My sister has told me that Cecil’s parents are hedging on their support. While they’re generally supportive (“We’ll always love our child!”), I’ve heard sentiments such as “Cecil’s father has decided not to pursue medical transition” when Cecil has asked about hormone blockers or expressed a desire to go on testosterone, and a refusal to use nongendered pronouns or Cecil’s chosen name. Cecil’s father has outright stated that he thinks it is a phase. My read, both as a nonbinary person and as a professional who works with queer youth, is that they are alienating their child and creating a situation where Cecil is far more at risk for severe depression and self-harm.

I know the parents socially from my niece’s birthday parties and family barbecues; we’re Facebook friends but not close enough that I see them receiving a message out of the blue very well. I’ve sent along relevant information and resources via my sister, but each update troubles me. My sister is willing to let Cecil stay with her if it comes to that, but I really want to try to impress upon their parents that their approach is going to cause a lot of long-term damage. I also understand that no one wants to be told how to parent their kids.

Do you have any recommendations as to how I should approach this? I am painfully aware of the rate of self-harm and suicidality in trans youth, and I am worried that these parents are creating a situation where their child is going to feel the need to escape.

—Nonbinary Non-Parent

Dear NNP,

I share your opinions on best practices for parenting in this scenario. Unfortunately, I think sister’s daughter’s friend’s parents are just too far outside your circle of intimacy and relationship for you to be able to intervene or counsel without seeming like a busybody.

Being a busybody is not the worst thing. Sometimes it’s necessary. But since you have already passed along resources via your sister and made your opinions clear, I think this is as far as you can go. There’s nothing in your letter to suggest that Cecil is actually considering or engaging in self-harm, and you’re simply not close enough to the situation to weigh in.

Your sister seems like a sympathetic listener and is well-positioned to know if the situation takes a turn for the worse, so I would leave it with her to keep an eye on Cecil. I know this will be challenging and the situation has a lot of personal resonance for you, but I think you will need to emotionally detach a bit. Stepping back, this is a situation about which you have only thirdhand information, and is not currently hitting a crisis point.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 18-month-old son has developed a deep, deep love of the vacuum cleaner. He loves to watch Daddy vacuum. He loves to watch Mommy vacuum. He loves to push buttons on the unplugged vacuum and push the unplugged vacuum across the floor. He does not accept toy vacuums or DustBusters. Those are inferior products and he is no fool. He has recently broken out in extreme hives and his doctor suspects the vacuum to be the culprit. The vacuum is banished to the garage, but he is now constantly banging on the garage door, pitching full-on screaming tantrums that can be heard from outside the house. The nanny texts me about it all the time, but I tell her we do not negotiate with terrorists. He accepts no comfort or redirection. His hives are gone. What to do?

—This Sucks

Dear This Sucks,

What a welcome change after a few weeks of multigenerational trauma and genuine neglect! I would change the vacuum bag, wipe it down with baby wipes, and let him push it around to his heart’s content. If the hives return, you can rebanish the vacuum.

Let us all embrace joy where we can find it!

—Nicole

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