Teaching kids to be kind to animals is one of the most important life lessons we can pass along to them.
It plays a vital role in kids growing up to respect those who are different from them and to treat them with kindness.
Many people think that kids will naturally be kind to animals without having to be taught, but that’s not always true.
Kids can be cruel simply because they don’t know how to behave around animals. Some kids don’t have an instinct for being gentle, and not all kids have peers who set good examples.
A child’s attitude toward animals can predict future behaviour toward people. Evidence shows that childhood cruelty to animals is the first warning sign of later delinquency, violence and criminal behaviour.
Teaching kids kindness toward vulnerable creatures helps them develop empathy for all living things, including other people.
Parents play a key role in teaching their kids to be kind to animals. Here are some ways to go about it.
Lead by example
This is the most powerful tool you’ve got. Always demonstrate kindness and compassion toward animals through your own actions.
Encourage respectful behaviour
Teach toddlers and children handling animals for the first time to be gentle. Explain what the world is like from an animal’s perspective and what can cause them fear or anxiety, such as yelling, grabbing or approaching too quickly.
Show kids how to pet and hold animals the right way
Little kids can sometimes get a bit vigorous with their ‘petting.’ Some may want to grab or pull animals. Repeat the word “gentle” and show them how it’s done.
Teach kids not to tease or taunt animals
Some kids think it’s funny to throw something at an animal, wave a bone just out of reach, yell up close or startle them. Emphasize that it’s not fun for the animal and can, in fact, be dangerous.
Explain that it hurts
Tell toddlers that animals have feelings and that ear pulling, squeezing or kicking hurts the animal as much it would hurt them. Be clear that such actions are not acceptable. If you see your child being just plain cruel, do not ignore this behaviour. Step in to correct it immediately and seek professional help if the behaviour continues.
Have kids help with pet care
If you have pets, give your kids age-appropriate tasks to help with their care. For example, refilling water bowls each day or walking the dog with you. Emphasize the importance of providing regular companionship and love.
Foster an animal
If you love animals but can’t commit to having a full-time pet, fostering is a great way to teach kids the meaning of volunteerism and helping others in need.
Visit an SPCA shelter with your kids
Explain the importance of caring for pets and the responsibilities of pet ownership. Pet a cat or walk a dog together.
Make a difference by donating food, blankets or pet toys for shelter animals.
Read kids’ books that show animals as feeling individuals
A few great examples for teaching empathy are Black Beauty, Charlotte’s Web, Hobbes Goes Home, A Kid’s Best Friend and The Forgotten Rabbit.
Watch animal-friendly movies together
Some notable ones for teaching compassion are Bambi, Lassie, Free Willy, Babe, Finding Nemo and Dumbo.
Observe wild animals in their natural habitat
Emphasize the importance of respecting wild animals from a distance and protecting their habitat by not littering. Avoid circuses that exploit captive animals for entertainment. Teach kids to be kind to animals. They’ll grow up to be kind to people as well.