Kids are going back to school… what is it like for you and the dogs?
Kids are going back to school… what is it like for you and the dogs?
Parenthood is such a funny thing, isn’t it?
You might find yourself complaining about having the kids around the whole summer: what activities can you think of doing, how much is it all going to cost, food disappear at the speed of light, the house is messier than ever, the dogs either end up being slightly tormented by the kids, or almost forgotten and you? Well, you feel exhausted most of the time… so much so that you almost wish time away.
And yet, when the day for the kids to go back to school come, you can’t help feeling emotional and not wanting to see them go.
Basically, you can’t win!
And while the whole summer you might have wished for a bit of peace and quiet, coming home after that first-day drop off… oh, gosh, the house feels like it’s lost its essential energy. It’s just so weird.
But you know why that is, you can be happy or sad about it, but you understand it. And, most of all, you know that in a few hours you will go get the kids and that energy will come back, even stronger than before.
Now, imagine being dogs…
Dogs don’t know the kids are gone for a few hours, or they might not quite remember that the kids go and, after a long while, they come back again.
What they do know, is that the house feels empty and you feel emotional… things are different, and in a big way.
Some dogs, especially the ones who are rather good at adapting to new things, or aren’t that bothered about changes, or those who have experienced this time again and again before, might adapt to the change much faster than others… but they all feel it: things are, indeed, different.
It would be so much easier if we could sit down and tell the dogs what’s what and that the kids will be back in a few hours and to brace themselves, because they will be back with extra bundled-up energy and extra emotional and, and, and…. ‘So, doggy, let’s enjoy it while we can!’
But, while you can certainly have a chat with the dogs about it (in fact, I highly recommend you share your feelings with them), sadly the dogs will not get what you are on about.
What you can do to help them, however, is plenty so, firstly, make a list of what is different, this is mine:
- we wake up earlier;
- earlier breakfast for the dogs and Molly
- we are all feeling very stressed and rushed
- my daughter is very anxious about going back to school
- I also feel nervous and anxious for her
- doggy-walk times changes
- Molly isn't home for hours during the day, only to come back a little 'different'
- bed time is a nightmare
- nights can be restless
- Molly misses the dogs and cat while at school
As you can see my list isn’t short, yet it is very similar to many families out there… maybe even yours?
So, what can I do to help the dogs? The child? And, ultimately, even myself?
Here are some advice for each point on my list:
Wake up earlier, having earlier breakfast and feeling stressed and rushed in the morning:
In my house this is going to be the case now, but to some families it might be the opposite and the kids might have been up at the crack of dawn all summer, only to struggle getting up for school. This could be due to sleeping problems, struggling to fall asleep knowing school was starting… all symptoms of anxiety.
Please, this doesn’t mean your child is constantly anxious, but starting or restarting school is a big deal for them, just like it was for us at their age, remember?
All that also affects the mood the kids are in when they wake up and snowball into the mad rush to get ready and get out of the door on time.
So, what you can do is prepare the night before!
Have your kitchen ready: bowls for doggies’ breakfast washed and ready to be filled by the side; lunch stuff (if needed) prepared the night before, so you only have to put them in the lunch box; school uniform (all of it! Shoes included!) ready in the bed room; school bag with everything the school told you to get, ready. School uniform and bag should be in the kids’ bedroom, so they can feel reassured, should they wake up during the night worried about forgetting something, but also they can start getting dressed when they wake up, or call you to help them, of course. But it’s important everything is in one place.
Also, if you have a puppy or a dog that loves to chew on stuff, it’s essential everything is kept away from the pup: we don’t want to risk a chewed up shoe on the first day, do we?
In fact, why not keeping the dogs amused with something else in the morning, so they are happy while you keep your sanity?
A food puzzle, ruffle rug, Kong or a bone… so many ideas, whatever you want to use, have it ready beforehand, so all you have to do, it’s giving it to the dogs. I always have a Kong or two ready in my freezer!
When your child is nervous or anxious about going back to school:
I know exactly what that feels like, because my daughter is very anxious about going to school. I am not a therapist, nor am I a pastoral carer, but what I can definitely tell you is to Be there for your child.
Your kids are going back to school uniforms, education from teachers, who might be also a little strict.
Some kids are less academical than others, some are less social than others, whatever it is, let them know that, you are there for them. When you'll pick them up from school, you will be patient, you will listen to everything they want to say, and not pressure them if they won't say anything at all.
Let them be themselves, knowing they are loved.
As parents, that is the ultimate thing we can do.
If there are deeper issues, talk to the school about it. And keep asking for help. Schools would have some pastoral care and the referral to CAMHS which are the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for young people and parents.
Make sure they listen to you. Don’t give up easily.
Dealing with your dogs' feelings and yours:
If you have time, you can start adapting the dog before school starts, but if this isn't possible, if would be good to work around the dog.
If you have a dog that is extremely dependant on routines, you will have to slowly adjust the times of the walk around her. If, however, the dog is rather flexible, as such, she might just be ok with having her walk at a different time than before.
If you can't do this yourself, and can't rearrange your timetable around the dog, maybe consider hiring a dog walker just for a short period of time, while the dog changes her routine, a little bit at the time.
However, when hiring a dog walker, make sure is a professional. Get in touch with your local KAD approved professionals for recommendations!
Speaking of walks… how will you take the kids to school. Are you walking or driving? is the dog coming to the school run or not?
There’s pros and cons to everything. If the dog comes with you, he won’t be left home alone; he might be able to comfort your child, who might find it difficult to come back to school.
However, we might want to consider that your child might need your comfort and your full attention, especially on that first morning; which would make it difficult to care for your dog too. Also, social distancing might be made difficult if you have your dog with you. Children might be keen to come see your dog; or other dogs might want to interact with yours.
Try not to give your dog and your child too much to deal with, especially on those first few days back to school.
Remember, your child might not be the only one being affected by this change.
Other children will be too, and your dog might end up witnessing a lot of emotional children and parents.
As a solution, you could leave your dog home, of course. Or, leave her in the car, if someone else can stay with her and it's safe.
Or if you stay in the car and the dropping off is made easy by your child walking from the car to the gate (this would depend of course on the age of your child and parking logistics).
It might also be better for the dog to see your child off while outside, but this is mostly to be considered if the dog has some issues of separation anxiety.
Honestly, the best approach is to take the dog for a sniff-walk after the school run. This should be a nice and relaxing walk somewhere with plenty of stuff for the dog to sniff and not too much excitement going on.
So, pick somewhere not too busy, leave the ball or frisbee behind, and just let the dog enjoy nature without going nuts running after a ball, or playing too much with other dogs, or having too much interactions. Those aren't bad things, but they are stimulating the dogs too much, while we need to focus on calming down a little.
And, let's face it, you need it too, don't you?
I know I am a worrier... I worry about how fragile sometimes my daughter seems to be; I worry about her social anxiety; I worry about her missing me, or Gary and, most of all Winnie, Wilco and our cat Mario.
Oh, I worry about so many things!
While I will be happy to get my days back and regain some kind of control over my working hours, the tidiness of the house, and more, I know I’ll miss her like crazy and I’ll feel very emotional and, I admit, I might even shed a tear or two.
So, I will make sure to go for a walk with my furry-children right after, so that the fresh air can lift my spirits and help me to feel better in general.
Do something that makes you happy… think of yourself too.
Children absence during the day:
You and your dogs will most likely be child-free for the first time in ages, which is a massive change for you both, but especially for your dog.
So, try to keep the rest of the day as normal as possible:
Whether you are working, or not, try to keep your day as normal as possible. In other words: don't overdo it.
You don't have to suddenly clean the whole house; or visit all the shops in the county; or have coffee, brunch and lunch with all your friends; nor do you have to find a cure for all diseases in one day.
Take it easy... keep your day normal, and look after your dogs' needs, because over the summer the kids would have been around them more, while suddenly they aren't, so I suggest you do some training sessions, or a bit of Freework, have a few playing sessions and cuddles and love (if the dog is up for those, of course).
I also recommend NOT to change the dog’s food, unless it’s for health reasons, during those first few days. New food might take time to adjust in the stomach and they might have some soft stool for a bit, but soft stool is also due to anxiety, so we want to keep that part normal and the stomach easy to deal with.
If you were thinking of getting a new doggy-bed, please wait a couple of weeks or so. Smells are super important to dogs and the scent on the bed will be of comfort to your dogs, so keep it that way for a bit.
Same goes for other old things (toys), don’t chuck them now, unless they’re broken, of course.
Your dogs might feel like something is missing; so give them something to distract themselves with:
- Snuff rug/ snuffle ball
- Buffalo horn
- Doggy Puzzles
Don’t overdo it either, Make sure they have time to rest.
Stressful bed time and sleepless nights
Bed time is hard at the best of times, let alone when it has to be early, because it’s a school night AND when they have to go back to school after weeks of staying home.
I am absolutely dreading it all!
That might be difficult for your dogs too, so bear that in mind too. They will not understand all the frustration and stress that's going on.
Again, something to keep him busy for a while would be good (see list above).
Then, of course, it’s not only about going to sleep… but it’s also about staying asleep!
The kids wake up during the night and might need you then too. They might come to your bedroom, or might call you to theirs. In that case, you might want to think about where the dogs sleep. Will they get woken up too? Most likely so!
This would mean that not only the humans had a bad night, but the dogs too. It is likely they might wake up even if they sleep downstairs, but, and this is something I always recommend to families with children, it is far better for the dogs to sleep somewhere the kids can't get to during the night especially, as everyone is asleep and you wouldn't know what the child is up to, and how the dogs might react if woken up in the middle of the night.
While for the dog that sniffy-walk I suggested earlier and the chew-stuff will be a massive help, unfortunately, not much will help your child while at school. I do believe most teachers will be used to that kind of struggles, especially on the first few days back to school. Just be ready for the school pick up, because that's not going to be a walk in the park at all!
School pick up and after school life
School pick ups can be brutal! Children have been sitting all day (or almost) and had to pay attention, follow rules, be quiet, contain themselves and their personality for 6 to 7 hours... at the end of the school day, the gates are realising wild beasts!!
So many emotions, all at once, from so many kids! If you possibly, possibly can, please leave the dogs home! If the dogs can't be left home alone, ask for help from a friend or family to stay with them for those first few school pick ups, which are definitely the hardest for the kids as they readjust to school life.
A good solution could also be to agree to meet at a spot which is close to the school gate, but it’s far enough for you not having to share space with lots of other parents, kids and, maybe even dogs.
This is what I did in the past when taking Winnie to the school pick up. However, I can't stress this enough, I do not take her on those first few days.
It would be too overwhelming for her, and I know I will need to be closer to Molly, both physically and emotionally, so I know I want my mind to be fully on my child, rather than having to worry about the dogs too.
After school the kids feel free to be themselves and, especially on those first few days, they seem to be even more themselves than usual! They go bonkers and can be very full-on.
At the same time, they might have missed the dogs dearly and will try to be all over them, which I completely get.
I listed before activities the kids can do, which are dog-related and that I highly recommend.
But also remember, they will have had a challenging day: proper school work; playing with their friends; being a busy and buzzing environment; so they will be tired and, possibly, a bit grumpy.
Here are some ideas from Youngminds, which I slightly modified, to include the dog:
Say something kind to each other. In the case of the dog, do something kind for him or her. Play her favourite game or give her her favourite treat?
Remind each other of a nice thing they have done in the past. For the dog, think of an activity the dog really liked and that, perhaps, we don’t do often. Some enrichment will be just the thing!
Smile at each other. But, remember that smiling at a dog doesn’t have the same effect as it does in humans. So, perhaps a little scratch to her favourite spot will do.
Ask your children if they need help with anything. Even if it involves the dog-related chores, they might be tired and not feeling like doing too much.
Make your children laugh! For the dogs… maybe hearing the giggles of her small humans, might just do the trick to make her happy too.
A great play session with the dog might just do the trick! Here's Molly playing with Winnie with some Tug-E-Nuff toys (if you use the code: POCODOGS you get 10% off anything from Tug-E-Nuff!).
Please, always remember to never leave your children and dogs unattended! Their interaction should always be actively supervised.
I wish you, your children and your dogs the absolute best!
I also wish you to be able to hold on to every minute of your children's life and keep those precious memories in your heart forever.
Get in touch with your local KAD Approved Professional for more information and help.