When kids learn to treat animals with gentleness and respect …

When kids learn to treat animals with gentleness and respect, they also learn about compassion and caring on a larger scale, which are traits that can later be applied to the relationships that they have with fellow humans. For parents of toddlers and young children, imparting these lessons can be a bit of a challenge.

Here are 10 ways to help your little one understand the importance of treating animals well.

  1. Set a Good Example – Children learn primarily through mimicry. They watch their parents and other authority figures, and then model their own behavior after their observances; one of the best ways to instill a love of animals is to have that same love yourself and to exhibit it often.
  2. Research Local Programs – Your local Humane Society chapter or other animal activism organization is likely to have a program or two specifically directed at helping small children understand the proper treatment of animals. A cursory glance at a local message board or search engine results could net dozens of options.
  3. Take Advantage of Story Time – Most kids love a bedtime story, and there are tons of books on the market written with this very subject in mind. A colorfully illustrated, well-written book about animals and the humans that love them can do wonders for explaining the concept of animal kindness to kids.
  4. Teach Proper Handling of Small Animals – Helping a child to properly hold and handle a small or newborn animal while emphasizing the importance of being gentle is a great way to teach a hands-on lesson about carefully handling animals and never being too rough.
  5. Visit a Petting Zoo – Spending an afternoon at the petting zoo can be a fun and informative experience for kids of all ages, but especially for little ones who wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to interact with such an interesting array of animals or have access to professionals that are trained to help kids learn about them.
  6. Share Interesting Facts – Learning that baby goats are also called “kids” or that butterflies taste with their feet not only entertain children, but also help them to see that animals have their own unique, interesting qualities.
  7. Help at a Shelter – Taking a trip to your local animal shelter to help walk the dogs, feed the cats or do other fun and interactive chores not only makes a difference in your community, but also in your child. It might be best to stick to a privately run no-kill shelter or to be sure that no animals are scheduled to be euthanized during your visit, however, to avoid a traumatic experience.
  8. Study Local Wildlife – A trip to a local nature preserve or national park not only provides kids with a day of no-television fun, but can also help them understand the very important concept that wild animals are not pets, but should be treated with the same respect.
  9. Watch Kid-Friendly Television Programming – While you might want to skip the program chronicling the antelopes’ encounter with a hungry lion, there are plenty of kid-centric animal documentary shows that can provide strong talking points and valuable information.
  10. Get a Pet – After you’re certain that your child understands the basic treatment of animals, introducing a pet into your home is a great way to keep their education going. Even if you live in a small space or urban environment that isn’t conducive to traditional pets, a small hamster or a goldfish can still help give your child a sense of responsibility.

Most small children need to be reminded to be gentle more than anything else, as deliberate cruelty is quite rare in children so young. Kids that show signs of harmful behavior might be struggling with a larger issue. If this is the case the child’s pediatrician should be consulted.

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