Dear Annie: I am inclined to ask for an outside opinion after spending time with my grandkids at their home last night and witnessing a lot of violent behavior with which they got away. It was an emotional roller coaster. I saw the eldest sibling behaving roughly with his younger siblings. The parents threatened to take away a favorite toy as punishment but then never followed through, nor did they use timeout, which I still think is smart for calming down.
As a grandparent, I was glad to see the sisters, ages 3 and 4, learning to fight back against their elder brother, who is 7, when he was rough with them. But he's still stronger, and there was still a lot of crying. Meanwhile, the 1-year-old boy is watching it all.
My daughter-in-law is a stay-at-home mom. My son participates with the discipline, but he mostly yells at them. The kids laugh it off, and the eldest boy even hits the parents or pounces on them when he feels like it. And again, nothing is done to punish him. The kids are simply told to hug and say they're sorry. This has been going on for at least three years.
When I spend time with the kids individually, they are sweet and very smart. I'm sure they like the calm visit with me. What will happen with them in the future? — Worried Grandma
Dear Worried Grandma: You are correct to be concerned. Empty threats help no one. They instill temporary fear in children that they will get something taken away, and when there is no follow-through on the threats, it teaches the children that your word is not worth paying attention to. In the end, they will continue not to listen to or respect your son and daughter-in-law. They need firm guidelines about not hitting, strict enforcement and lots of love.
Dear Annie: I am a veterinarian, and I have read your column since its inception. I usually agree with your advice. However, I must object to the advice you gave to the owners of the cat who got a Great Pyrenees. They believe that the dog is demanding an inordinate amount of their attention, possibly out of jealousy. Though your reply was well-intended, your recommendations may not have been helpful and could even be dangerous. Dogs and cats have their own methods of communication, with facial expressions and body language that most people aren't trained or attuned enough to understand. They have evolved to respond to these cues in certain ways. Trying to project human emotions, motivations or patterns of behavior onto dogs or cats is largely unsuccessful and can sometimes create even more unwanted behavior.
This couple would benefit from having a professional dog trainer come to their house, observe the social hierarchy that exists and counsel them on the best way to safely modify this dog's behavior. Thank you for your ongoing efforts to help people with their issues. I hope this information is beneficial. — Michigan Veterinarian
Dear Michigan Veterinarian: Thank you for your expertise. You make a great point about the potential pitfalls of projecting human emotion onto animal behavior. I've forwarded your letter to the owner of the Great Pyrenees, and I'm printing it here for the benefit of all readers trying to keep the peace among animals in their homes.
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