In­still­ing the love of an­i­mals in our chil­dren

Society Magazine - - Parenting - By Ho­mayra Bil­lah

Teach­ing com­pas­sion towards an­i­mals at an early age will help set the tone for them when they grow up. Read on and find out some spe­cific ways to teach your kids to be kind to an­i­mals

Kind­ness is some­thing I al­ways em­pha­sise and try to in­stil in my chil­dren. But kind­ness isn’t lim­ited to hu­mans, it should ex­tend towards an­i­mals and the en­vi­ron­ment too. We are an­i­mal ac­tivists in our house­hold and we care deeply for the en­vi­ron­ment with the lim­ited knowl­edge that we have. Teach­ing chil­dren to be kind to an­i­mals and em­pha­sis­ing the im­por­tance of ex­tend­ing com­pas­sion and con­sid­er­a­tion to other liv­ing be­ings, is an im­por­tant and valu­able life les­son.

Arthur Schopen­hauer says that “Com­pas­sion for an­i­mals is in­ti­mately con­nected with good­ness of char­ac­ter; and it may be con­fi­dently as­serted that he who is cruel to an­i­mals can­not be a good man.” This idea rings very true in our house­hold and we em­pha­size this in reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions. So how do we teach our chil­dren to show com­pas­sion towards our an­i­mal friends and the en­vi­ron­ment?

Model kind­ness

The first and most im­por­tant thing you can do to teach your chil­dren to be kind to an­i­mals and plants, is to dis­play that kind­ness your­self. Giv­ing wa­ter to a dy­ing plant on the street, wa­ter­ing your own gar­den daily, show­ing love to an­i­mals, feed­ing strays, help­ing the sick, sim­ply pat­ting the neigh­bour’s dog… the list is end­less. Your chil­dren will copy your be­hav­iour towards plants and an­i­mals so en­sure you are show­ing kind­ness.

Speak with kind­ness

Re­mem­ber that your be­hav­iour towards an­i­mals also refers to how you speak about an­i­mals. It is not okay to shout at an­i­mals or swear. It is also not ad­vis­able to la­bel some­one an an­i­mal, for ex­am­ple a dog, when you are an­gry with them. As this leads chil­dren to, by as­so­ci­a­tion, au­to­mat­i­cally think that dogs are bad an­i­mals. When talk­ing to an­i­mals, use kind, gen­tle words to de­scribe them. Talk to your chil­dren about how they feel and hurt just like us, yet they don’t have a voice, so we need to take care of them.

En­cour­age re­spect­ful be­hav­iour and lan­guage

For tod­dlers and chil­dren han­dling an­i­mals for the first time, teach them to be gen­tle and to avoid touch­ing an an­i­mal who shows clear signs of want­ing to be left alone. Dis­cour­age your child from taunt­ing an­i­mals, even if it’s only ver­bal, as this can lead to a pat­tern of dis­re­spect which can man­i­fest into some­thing more sin­is­ter down the track. Some chil­dren strug­gle to be gen­tle, even when pat­ting and show­ing love. Model ap­pro­pri­ate pat­ting. Don’t let your child hit an an­i­mal! If you have an un­wanted house guest, like a cock­roach or a mouse, con­sider trap­ping it safely and re­leas­ing it out­side. Chil­dren learn best by fol­low­ing your ex­am­ple, and set­ting an ex­am­ple of peace­ful, con­sid­er­ate and re­spect­ful be­hav­iour is one of the most pow­er­ful lessons they can learn from you.

Read books about an­i­mals

Most chil­dren have a nat­u­ral fas­ci­na­tion for an­i­mals and are ea­ger to learn about them. Choose books that fo­cus not only on the habi­tat, diet, and phys­i­cal traits of dif­fer­ent species but on their so­cial, emo­tional and be­havioural traits (e.g. chim­panzee form­ing so­cial hi­er­ar­chies, ele­phants work­ing to­gether to pro­tect young calves). Talk to your child about which qual­i­ties hu­mans share with other an­i­mals – you may be sur­prised by how in­sight­ful their re­sponses can be.

Give your child re­spon­si­bil­ity for car­ing for an an­i­mal

If you care for an an­i­mal at home, give your child re­spon­si­bil­ity for meet­ing its ba­sic needs by set­ting them ageap­pro­pri­ate tasks (e.g. re­fill­ing the wa­ter bowl). Teach­ing chil­dren the im­por­tance of re­spon­si­ble pet guardian­ship is a valu­able way to nur­ture kind­ness and con­sid­er­a­tion for the needs of oth­ers. Em­pha­sise the im­por­tance of pro­vid­ing food, fresh wa­ter, and reg­u­lar ex­er­cise to an an­i­mal un­der your care. Don’t for­get to also em­pha­sise the im­por­tance of pro­vid­ing reg­u­lar com­pan­ion­ship and love – an­i­mals feel lone­li­ness, just like we do.

Ob­serve an­i­mals in the wild

The best way to show chil­dren that an­i­mals have their own unique place in the world is by ob­serv­ing them in their nat­u­ral habi­tat. Tak­ing chil­dren to see cap­tive an­i­mals per­form tricks in a cir­cus or in a theme park re­in­forces the prob­lem­atic idea that an­i­mals ex­ist for the sole pur­pose of serv­ing hu­mans (i.e. through en­ter­tain­ment). Spend­ing time in na­ture (e.g. bush­walk­ing, vis­it­ing a park) is a great way to help your child de­velop a deep con­nec­tion and rev­er­ence for the nat­u­ral world. So get them off their iPads and im­merse them in na­ture. Teach your child the im­por­tance of re­spect­ing other an­i­mals from a dis­tance and pro­tect­ing their habi­tat by not lit­ter­ing.

Visit a lo­cal an­i­mal shel­ter

Vis­it­ing a lo­cal an­i­mal shel­ter will teach your child about the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive im­pacts hu­mans can have on other an­i­mals. Thou­sands of healthy, un­wanted dogs and cats are aban­doned and eu­thanised ev­ery year due to hu­man ac­tions. An­i­mals shel­ters play a cru­cial role in re­hom­ing aban­doned an­i­mals and giv­ing them a sec­ond chance to find a lov­ing home. You can help your child make a dif­fer­ence by do­nat­ing food and blan­kets or mak­ing hand­made pet toys for shel­ter dogs and cats.

Teach chil­dren that ev­ery lit­tle bit counts

I love the story of the old man who walked by the beach ev­ery morn­ing be­fore go­ing to work. He would see the starfish that had been washed up to shore, pick them up and throw them back into the sea. There were hun­dreds of starfish that had been washed up and the man would al­ways do his best to throw as many back into the sea as pos­si­ble.

Off in the dis­tance, a young boy watches the old man col­lect the starfish and throw them into the sea. “Good morn­ing! May I ask what it is that you are do­ing?” The man pauses, looks up, and replies “Throw­ing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t re­turn to the sea by them­selves. When the sun gets high, they will die, un­less I throw them back into the wa­ter.” The boy replies, “But there are too many starfish on this beach. You won’t re­ally be able to make much of a dif­fer­ence.” The old man bends down, picks up yet another starfish and throws it as far as he can into the ocean. Then he turns, smiles at the young boy and says, “I made a dif­fer­ence to that one!”

Ev­ery lit­tle ges­ture counts. We need to teach our chil­dren that.

Teach em­pa­thy

On a darker note, ag­gres­sion towards an­i­mals not some­thing we want to ig­nore, as there are some dis­turb­ing con­nec­tions be­tween kids who are cruel to an­i­mals and vi­o­lent be­hav­iour towards peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to FBI pro­fil­ers, psy­chi­atric pro­fes­sion­als, law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials, and child ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions, peo­ple who hurt an­i­mals may even­tu­ally di­rect vi­o­lence to­ward hu­mans. Peo­ple who are capable of such acts have a se­verely un­der­de­vel­oped sense of em­pa­thy—they lack the abil­ity to com­pre­hend or care about the dis­tress or agony that they are caus­ing. Without em­pa­thy, it is easy to think of oth­ers as un­feel­ing ma­chines. Teach­ing kind­ness and re­spect for an­i­mals is the first step in teach­ing chil­dren em­pa­thy.

Teach chil­dren about an­i­mal be­hav­iours

An­i­mals be­have dif­fer­ently in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, just like hu­mans. If an an­i­mal is run­ning away, chances are they don’t want to be touched. So, teach your chil­dren how to re­spond ac­cord­ingly. If your child be­gins to run af­ter a scared an­i­mal or throw ob­jects at it, this is an in­di­ca­tion of poor be­hav­iour. Help­ing a stray an­i­mal that is scared, by slowly mov­ing towards it, of­fer­ing some food and wait­ing to gain his/her trust is a much bet­ter way of han­dling the sit­u­a­tion and teach­ing your child kind­ness towards their furry friend.

Chil­dren need to learn to care for crea­tures that are smaller and weaker, as well as larger and stronger than they are. Re­spect for wildlife and kind­ness to an­i­mals are gifts our chil­dren will carry through­out their lives. An­i­mal cru­elty is so preva­lent in to­day’s so­ci­ety and enough em­pha­sis is not given towards re­liev­ing in­no­cent an­i­mals of constant tor­ture. Teach­ing our chil­dren com­pas­sion and care towards our furry friends teaches them the im­por­tance of ad­vo­cat­ing for an­i­mal safety and care… and it teaches our chil­dren another im­por­tant as­pect of be­ing a good hu­man be­ing

HO­MAYRA bIl­lAHOrig­i­nally from Aus­tralia, Ho­mayra Bil­lah is the founder and man­ag­ing part­ner of Kanga’s Pouch Nurs­ery in Qatar. A teacher and busy mum of two, she is pas­sion­ate about pro­vid­ing pos­i­tive nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ments for chil­dren to grow and de­velop. She be­gan her Qatari ad­ven­ture in 2008 hav­ing taught in Aus­tralia for 5 years. Since be­ing in Doha, Ho­mayra has taught at nurs­ery level for 18 months and a well-known Bri­tish school for al­most 4 years be­fore es­tab­lish­ing Kanga’s Pouch.

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