In my family, we are all animal lovers and for as long as I can remember we had pets and did everything we could to protect the wild animals we came across.
So, naturally, when my son was born we wanted him to have the same respect and love for animals and for him to grow up surrounded by four-legged friends.
This was not only because that’s how I and my husband were raised but also because, according to this review of 22 studies on the relationship between animal ownership and child development, closeness to pet has a positive impact on human development (emotional, behavioural, cognitive, educational and social).
Here are a few examples of the benefits that animals have on children:
- Learning responsibility towards another creature
- Being patient and controlling impulses
- Forming a healthy connection to nature
- Learning life lessons like illness, death, birth, accidents, etc.
- Being compassionate
- Love, empathy, loyalty
- Can help with language development
And this list can go on.
When my son was a few months old we rescued a kitten, Carlos the Mighty (a scrawny little cat with an eye infection), that was going to become his best buddy and his companion on every garden adventure. But even though my son loves his cat and he is generally attracted and curious about all creatures, there were moments, especially when he was younger (under 3 years), when he was angry or annoyed about something which meant that cat ears might’ve been pulled, a tail stepped on or poor Carlos pushed from his comfy sleeping spot.
At first, I have to admit that I was worried and hated the idea that my son enjoyed hurting animals or used this type of behaviour to calm down his nerves. But then, I started reading and thinking of ways to teach my kid about the importance of being kind to animals.
Here are my 10 tips to encourage children to show kindness towards animals that worked wonders for my family:
1. Lead by example: Kids are like little Xerox machines, they will copy everything they see. So, if we want them to be kind to animals it all starts with us. Show them how you take care of the little furry, feathery or scaly friends and they will most likely copy that behaviour. After all, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching” (Mahatma Gandhi).
2. Observe your child’s interaction with animals and intervene if necessary: Interactions with animals, especially when talking about younger children, should be observed at all times for both of their safety. Sometimes young kids don’t realise that they may be playing too roughly with their pets, which means that even the gentlest of animals can react when feeling threatened. If you notice that your child is getting a little too excited while playing with the pet, remind him/her softly, not in a scolding way, that s/he needs to be kind and gentle.
3. Assign pet-related responsibilities to your child: Depending on your child’s age you can give him/her small responsibilities like feeding and brushing the pet. Of course, you will need to oversee that the assigned chores are done every day and be ready to give gentle reminders.
4. Take a walk in nature: The best way to observe animals is in their natural habitat. So why not put on your hiking boots, grab your binoculars and take a walk in nature. Even if you live in the city with no hiking paths or forests nearby, a visit to the park or even your backyard is a great way of discovering different animals and insects. You can turn this little adventure into a fun nature treasure hunt.
5. Teach your child not to disturb the animals and their environment: A since we are on the subject of walking in nature, it is incredibly important to teach our children to respect nature and animals by doing everything that we can to protect and conserve the environment. Children are naturally curious and that’s a good thing. But when it comes to animals, kids’ curiosity might harm them. So, it is up to us to explain to them that we can observe all the creatures we come across without touching them or their homes.
6. Visit/Volunteer at a local animal shelter: A good way of teaching children empathy and kindness towards animals is by visiting or if possible volunteering at your local animal shelter. The employees there will be grateful for the help and your child will get to offer care and affection to less fortunate animals.
7. Adopt a pet: All animals, old, young, injured, or healthy deserve a nice home, affection, and a family. If possible adopt a pet from an animal shelter and give it the good life it deserves. That’s how we got our cat, Carlos, and in all honesty, we can´t imagine our family without him.
8. Teach kids animal safety: According to statistics in the U.S, approximately 51% of dog bite victims are children between the ages of 5 and 9. The main reason for this is poor understanding of the animal´s body language. So, whether you have a pet at home or not, teaching your child about animal safety and how to behave around them in different situations is vital.
9. Read books about kindness to animals: A great way of showing kids the importance of being kind to animals is by reading books on the topic. There is a vast selection of beautiful books to choose from like: “Tails are Not for Pulling” by Elizabeth Verdick or “Before you were mine” by Maribeth Boelts.
10. Teach kids the importance of each animal or insect: Each animal or insect plays its part in nature. On your walks in nature include bits of information about what each animal does and its usefulness for the environment. Besides the knowledge, this may help children develop respect for all creatures.
Teaching children to be kind to animals and respect them and their environment should be as important as teaching them life skills like critical thinking or personal hygiene. A child who grows up with pets has higher confidence, self-esteem, better social skills, and is less lonely. In addition to this, the way children treat animals is a reflection of how they relate to other human beings.