Spiritually Speaking

Question: I’ll begin by saying I’m an animal lover. My husband died four years ago and the one thing that gives me peace is gardening. I have worked diligently at creating a beautiful front yard full of flowers that blossom all year long depending upon the season.

My problem is that folks walking their dogs often let them romp in my flower gardens and the result is I end up with dug up plants, which breaks my heart after all of the work I’ve put in. I even have two signs that read, “Please Stay Off the Flower Beds” but the signs have been ignored. Any suggestions?

~ Flower Lover


Dear Flower Lover,

I, too, am a passionate gardener and also an animal lover. I recommend putting up decorative fences, easily purchased on line, at a hardware store or at a nursery.

I am also a volunteer gardener at Descanso Gardens. A few years ago we had a problem with visitors going into the flower beds and taking pictures, especially during tulip season. We put up these fences and problem solved. Mostly. Occasionally I have to remind someone to get out of the beds. Check them out a Descanso Gardens.

Carolyn Young, Gardener,


Dear Flower Lover,

First, I sympathize. In addition to your garden being a testament to your hard work, an outlet for self-expression and healing, a shot in the arm to your mental health and maybe (if you’re like me) the source of a single, triumphant strawberry, gardens reduce our carbon footprint and are a welcome and comforting sight in any neighborhood. A garden also happens to be your property and you should feel pride of workmanship in your achievement. So when someone’s pet causes a bustle in your hedgerow, it smarts.

Furthermore, we also see marauding pets as an extension of their owners. If you had a chicken coop, you’d build it in such a way that coyotes and other predators wouldn’t get in; you’d prune your palm trees in such a way that they’d be less susceptible to blight. But a dog tearing up your pea patch is clearly something that its owner has some control over, so why don’t they have some consideration for your hard work? It seems to me that keeping dogs out of the neighbor’s yard on their walks and cleaning up their waste is just a simple part of the social construct; as simple to understand as restricting the blowing off of holiday fireworks to professionals at set times.

But because, on my worst day, I can feel a little misanthropic, I won’t try to tell you that people just don’t know how special a garden is. On such days I would say that people know but don’t care, and perhaps only having a garden themselves would they feel the need to keep their pets away from yours. But, as the owner of an occasionally rambunctious dog in a residential area, I’ll say that I always try to keep him away from gardens. I am especially relieved when those gardens are in raised beds or behind low fences where he can’t get to them and only the birds, raccoons and coyotes can.

One of the Unitarian Universalist principles is an understanding of the interdependent web all living things share, but some people come to that understanding in their own time. In the meantime, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “Good fences make good dogs.”

Marty Barrett


Question: Our 6-year-old son returned from camp using swear words as though they are everyday language. We are shocked! Between us, we sometimes say a word or two, but never in the presence of our son and 4-year-old daughter. Our son said all the kids at camp swear and they told him never to swear in front of those directing the camp. We told him swearing is inappropriate and there are other better ways to express ourselves. Although his language has toned down a bit, he forgets and lets out a swear word once in a while. We also told him to not swear in front of his friends because we don’t want him influencing them.

Is there an effective way to talk to him so that he really understands?

~ Dismayed Parents


Dear Dismayed Parents,

So your young children are in the early terms of their age of discovery and they have discovered a “Pandora’s Box” within language. The question is: now what?

First I would like to mention to not worry too much. Just as they have discovered foul language and “curse words” they will also discover better words as you develop a nomenclature within your household. You can rest assured of that fact. For the time being and since your children are 4 and 6, their love, admiration and trust in you as parents fortunately have a lot of pull with them … and hopefully always will.

I would say after you have explained to them the whys and why nots and the respect factors within healthy communication, I strongly suggest leading by example. By that I mean talk with them a lot about anything and everything appropriate in their exciting little lives – and do it a lot. By practicing more speech without foul language, the less they will use those types of words and be more geared to use the preferable language they are used to practicing. After all, we are creatures of habit and, keep in mind, the more fun and positive the experiences are the more they will enjoy and like developing these habits.

Also reading with them and using books with their favorite characters and heroes could help tremendously by pointing out they do not use that type of language, either. So stay strong, be flexible, lead with love and everything will be just fine. You are doing a great job as parents.

Good job! Be proud of yourselves.

Devin Gilliland

Devin Gilliland, Practitioner-in-training

Dear Dismayed Parents,

I know this is disheartening. I’d like to reassure you – this has happened to many children and parents over the years, even to myself as a parent who was a pastor. And if it’s the first time this has happened to you as a parent, it’s extremely worrisome!

As a young mom, my first child went to a Christian preschool. Her very first friend invited her to a birthday party. It was when we were driving home from the event that my child uttered a non-sequential poem that included a profane word. Now I identified what the word was, but she had no idea it was inappropriate. That is until she saw my shocked eyes – my emotions – as I asked her where she had heard that (her friend’s older brothers) and I then told her not to say that word. But her eyes gleamed because she had gotten a reaction out of me, though she did not really know why.

When she later said it again, when she was strapped into her car seat and we were driving, I remember thinking, “I am not going to react. I’m going to ignore it.” Sure enough, it lost its power and she forgot the word, which brings me to some effective tools I now know as a psychotherapist. Keep a poker face. This is the number one thing we can do when a young child uses a cuss word. With younger children, when any behavior gets a big reaction from a parent they are likely to test us. Parents are perfect to infants and very young toddlers. As they grow to attain independence, it’s quite thrilling to see your parent overreact. This does not mean your children need help; they are in a perfectly normal behavioral stage. When a child reaches around 18 months to 3 years, they are in the autonomy versus shame stage. As they strive to individuate as a little person, they will test us. Redirection, staying calm, sometimes ignoring bad behavior can make their new rebellious acts calm down in many circumstances. As children turn 3, 4, and 5, they enter into the initiative versus guilt stage. Here is where they are affected socially and learn what they do or say has an impact on others; but they are also a bit more open to learning to take control and lead. This gives parents many opportunities to guide their children to lead in a positive way, help others and make positive choices. At this stage, to become fully functional, confident members of society we must successfully complete each stage and resolve two conflicting states; for example, those of trust versus mistrust and autonomy versus shame.

I’m the initiative versus guilt stage; you can explain deeper ways of thinking that words can hurt others, provide alternative words for children to express themselves and even create and follow through on consequences.

Children in this age group and beyond are able to begin seeing others’ points of view, choose alternatives over the behaviors and words that cause “shock value” and truly desire to initiate good behavior rather then feel the guilt of being reprimanded.

This incident with your son lies within the norm. It happens to good parents and good, developing children. Keeping a poker face, redirecting, staying calm, ignoring behavior if it helps to extinguish the actions, providing alternatives and introducing consequences are all helpful tools to guide a child away from undesirable behavior.

Rev. KimberlieZakarian, LMFT, Montrose