Checking the water bowl

empty dog water bowlWhen the dog drinks water out of the toilet bowl, it disgusts me. It annoys me. My immediate reaction is to stop whatever I’m doing and make it stop.

After I shoo the dog out of the bathroom and close the lid to the toilet, I always do the same thing. I check the water bowl.

Almost without exception, if the dog is drinking out of the toilet it means she has no water in her bowl.

The behavior is gross. The fastest fix is to boot her from the bathroom. But the root of the problem lies in the fact that she has a basic unmet need.

When my children whine or bicker, when they weep big dramatic tears over comparatively tiny heartaches, when they make choices that defy both my logic and our house rules, I’ll admit that my reactionary response works much the same. Make it stop. Fix the behavior. Shut the door.

I’m pretty good at redirection, distraction, setting limits with empathy, and following through on my limits. I know the quickest and gentlest ways to get my kids reoriented in a new direction.

But do I always check the water bowl? I don’t think I do. 

When behavior is out of sync (for any of us, really – not just dogs and children), there is almost always an unmet need.

Babies are good at reporting the basics – wet, tired, hungry, overstimulated – and most of us, I think, respond quickly to meet those needs without begrudging the baby for the fussing and crying because we know it’s his only method of communication. Even with the dog I always soften a little when I discover the empty water bowl because, hey. What was she supposed to do? File a formal complaint with the management?

But sometimes it’s easy to forget that even very verbal and emotionally in-tune children don’t have the ability to tell me they are thirsty, or hungry, or tired, let alone to say: “Mom, I had a rough day at school. I need to just chill out for a while without my brother getting in the way.” 

Identifying the unmet need doesn’t mean the behavior becomes okay, or even that my response to it changes. But it does give us a fighting chance at understanding one another – mother and child, provider and dependent, human being and fellow human being.

I want to get better about checking the water bowl.


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9 Responses to Checking the water bowl

  1. Tanya November 19, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Man, this could not be more timely for me. Harris is currently sick and just in the general 20 month old challenge phase, and with me also being sick today it’s really hard to try and have him tell me what the source of the outpouring of illogical wailing is. I think the toddler years are so specifically challenging because they’re such a mixture of having genuine beefs that are difficult to verbally express and having biologically driven diva fits.

    • Sarah November 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

      So sorry you guys are sick! :( That’s the worst. Go easy on yourselves…and oh, do I know that pre-two stage well. Good luck!

  2. Jessie November 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Great post, Sarah. And so true.

    • Sarah November 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      Thanks, Jessie!

  3. Kristen @ Motherese November 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    So wise, Sarah, and such a good reminder. My kids are sick right now and I had this big a-ha moment last week when they first came down with it: oh, so that’s why you’ve been acting so grumpy. I had to remind myself that the behavior came from an unmet need (in this case, feeling generally awful and not getting the rest they needed). Now to try to ask myself what the need is at a time when I can still do something about it.

    • Sarah December 6, 2012 at 6:56 am #

      Oh, Kristen, I hope everybody is feeling better by now. It’s so hard in practice. That’s why I had to give myself the reminder, too. :)

  4. Tracy Carson November 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    One might think that you are the one with the counseling degree after this post. Well said, my friend, well said!

    • Sarah December 6, 2012 at 6:56 am #

      I’m good at counseling myself – does that count? ;) Thanks, friend.

  5. Lisa November 21, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    We can take this wonderful analogy one step further. For lack of keeping the water bowl full, you may have an unpleasant surprise the next time you sit on the toilet seat!

    Thanks for the reminder that it’s not just our furry friends but all of us who need to give and receive daily care and love – every day.

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