Good with animals, good with children

Published 7:01 am Sunday, September 11, 2016

Question: Do people who are “good with animals” make good parents?

Answer: I have been reading the autobiography of Mary Rose O’Reilly, “The Barn At the End of the World” and her shepherding description of “haltering up” lambs for judging strikes me as insightful for parenting.

There were several steps. The lamb has to be haltered every day, after catching it, of course, which takes an hour. With practice, catching the lamb becomes pretty easy; a lamb seems to sense the shepherd’s confidence and gives up. In Mary O’Reilly’s words, “Much like children, lambs make a big fuss, but respond to rather little show of authority. Willingness to throw a flying tackle also helps.” The halter needs to be tied short, so that the lamb has no space to butt its way through the fence or break its neck running to the end of the leash. The experienced parent will understand the correlation to clear boundaries that are set tight enough that when children test them, which they will, they still remain within low-risk territory.

After haltering, the shepherd basically plays with the lamb until it becomes tame.

After play, the shepherd draws the haltered lamb into her lap, holding it close; the shepherd puts her arm around the lamb and breathes with it. As the lamb senses the shepherd’s body heat, it relaxes and becomes comfortable.

The next step is for the shepherd to try to lead the lamb by tugging at the halter just a little, putting her hand under the lamb’s chin and easing forward. According to Mary O’Reilly, “a little push on the tail does wonders.”

All the while, the shepherd is cooing “Come lamb; come lamb” and bleating softly, if no one is around. It’s an observed fact that lambs perk up their ears at the shepherd’s bleating. Animals respond to sounds in their own language. (Most parents know the positive influence of tender words, silly rhymes and singing for and with their children.) Good shepherds never drag or hit their lambs.

If the proper steps are followed, lamb after lamb comes along nicely. The same can be said for parents and children.

To talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child-raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 1-877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org and resources at the Parenting Resource Center Specialty Library (105 First Street SE, Austin).