World Kindness Day is a celebration of what most people consider our species’ best set of qualities: compassion, consideration for others, respect and generosity.
Kindness shouldn’t be limited to any particular gender, race, age group or even species. In fact, showing kindness and compassion to the most vulnerable of our fellow earthlings (i.e. other animals, particularly under human care) is often seen as the most telling sign of a person’s capacity for the traits we hold most sacred. As Gandhi famously said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
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.
Here are five helpful tips for teaching children to show kindness to animals on World Kindness Day and each day thereafter:
1. 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. Teach your child the importance of respecting other animals from a distance and protecting their habitat by not littering.
2. Read books about the natural behaviours of other 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.
3. Give them 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 age-appropriate 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.
4. 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. 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.
5. 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. Creating signs and posters to educate the local community on responsible pet guardianship is another way you can work together to create awareness. By practising active citizenship in your community and participating in volunteer work, your child will feel empowered in their ability to make a positive change to the lives of others.
How do you encourage your children to be kind to animals?
Author: Valerie Wangnet
ThinkKind Australia provides free humane education resources for parents and teachers to encourage children to be kind to animals. To find out more about their free Kindness Club Kit for schools and quarterly student magazine aligned to the National Curriculum visit their website or follow them on facebook or twitter.