Instilling the love of animals in our children
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?
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.
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.