Posted on Oct 23, 2015
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Jay and I went to Knoxville, Tennessee last week to offer our Peace Enhancement Program at the second Gentle Barn for the very first time. We were so excited! We decided to start with three groups of foster children of different ages, 2 to 3-year- olds, 6 to 10-year-olds, and teenagers of 16 and 17.
The first group was of the 2 and 3-year-olds. They were so adorable and tiny and had already had a world of hurt inflicted on them; my heart broke. Because of their abuse and attention deficits, these babies had all been kicked out of several day care establishments. I explained to the foster parents and staff that at The Gentle Barn we want kids this age to have their own experience of nature, animals, and the world around them with limited restrictions. We would give them a few boundaries and then set them free to explore at their own pace, in their own way. I gathered the kids together and asked them how we pet animals gently. Using their arms they showed me how to stroke slowly and gently instead of hitting. Then, I told them that they could not chase the animals and that I wanted them to stand still and let the animals come to them. Those were our boundaries for the day: no chasing and petting gently. I asked the foster parents and staff if they were OK with the kids getting wet or dirty and they all said “yes.”
The kids had the best time! They put their little arms in the animals’ water bowls and splashed. They practiced motor skills by brushing the cows and giving tummy rubs to the pigs. They fed carrots to the horses and practiced holding their hands flat. They sloshed around the pigs’ swimming pool and got soaking wet. They held chickens and practiced petting them gently with one finger. They climbed up and down the tractor practicing balance and pretending to drive. The kids didn’t chase any animals, they all pet the animals gently, and they completely listened to the rules. The staff said that it was the first time they had ever seen any of those children cooperate and pay attention that way. We were all so proud of them! We were told later that the kids could not stop talking about their experience and could not wait to come back.
Animals make parenting look easy. They never leave their babies unattended (except small trips to find food), and no mater the species, they know that there is a time to bond and nurture, a time for faith parenting where they allow the babies to explore and experience their environment, and a time where they must enforce some rules and boundaries to keep their babies safe and well behaved. Many of us are so overwhelmed with the struggles of life—making money, running a household, and having a career—that we have lost the natural instinct to parent. As a result, there are many children who feel no parental bonds and feel empty, who are over- controlled, or do not have any boundaries and are badly behaved and wild as a result. The minute children feel seen and respected, have the freedom to follow their own instincts, and have a few rules, they blossom. Sadly, there is much damage already done to these kids from their families of origin, but we will spend the year making it up to them by putting them together with animals to empower, soften, and inspire. It’s going to be a GREAT year!
Stay tuned for more stories of animals healing kids at The Gentle Barn.
Written by Ellie Laks
Founder, The Gentle Barn