Am I Being Overprotective of My 2 Year Old?

Reader’s Question

Q. My parents and I both live next to each other. I have a 2-year-old daughter who loves spending time over at her grandparents’ house. My parents often baby sit her and enjoy spending time with her as well. The problem is, I don’t like my parents’ dog and don’t trust the dog around my 2-year-old while visiting at their house. The dog has bitten other people before when it feels threatened or cornered. I have asked my parents to please keep the dog away from my daughter by keeping the dog on the other side of the baby gates. My parents won’t agree to do that and they feel like I should trust them while watching my child at their house. They say they are always around my daughter and would never let anything happen to her. They also don’t feel like it is fair to the dogs to lock them away after they have been locked up all day while they are at work.Please help. My child enjoys being over at their house but I am fearful of her safety while over there. Am I being too overprotective?

— J.S., Alabama

Psychologist’s Reply

A. The situation is not really clear, as you didn’t mention the type/size of the dog and at one point you mention “dog” and later “dogs”.

While it may not be technically clear, the situation is clear. Dogs DO pose a risk to a small child as they “snap” or bite when cornered, threatened, or harassed. Children often do those things by accident as when cornering a dog to pet it. A dog with a history of snapping or biting others is at higher risk than a dog with no history.

It sounds like your parents have taken your concerns and request personally…as though you are questioning their ability to watch your child. In truth, dogs react in a split-second, something that is not prevented by careful monitoring by good grandparents. You are appropriately questioning the safety of your child in the presence of a dog/dogs with a history of biting humans. Makes sense to me.

In talking with your parents, discuss the risk of a two-year-old and a dog/dogs — not the quality of babysitting. Assure them that you fully respect their love and monitoring of the child, but the situation has some risk because a child and animal are involved. Both are quick and unpredictable. Both are curious and attention seeking, a combination that can put them face-to-face. Try to reach a strategy that makes everyone feel safe and happy. Perhaps the child can visit for shorter periods of time, allowing the dogs more time to unwind from being locked up during work hours.

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From your parents’ perspective, they probably view the situation like cigarette smokers. “You can tell me not to smoke in YOUR house, but not in my own house!” As a concerned parent, you are telling them to control their dogs in THEIR house. That’s making them defensive. See if you can cut a deal, reach an agreement. Again, focus on the way children and dogs act — not issues with parenting and babysitting.

Hope this reply is helpful.

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