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Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.

Teaching Kids Compassion Toward Animals

Teaching kids to have compassion and empathy for their furry, feathered, and finned friends is vital for preventing cruelty to animals as well as in raising them to respect and treat those who are different from them with kindness. According to the National PTA Congress, “Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind, and considerate in their relations to each other. Character training along these lines will result in men and women of broader sympathies; more humane, more lawabiding, in every respect more valuable citizens.”

Live by and teach the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Since young children naturally identify with animals, and because animals are living beings like us, we can use our interactions with animals to teach children how to behave toward other people. Teaching our kids to respect and protect even the smallest and most despised among us is one of the most important life lessons that we can pass along to them. It helps them learn to value one another—and it prevents violence.

Empathy Training Prevents Violence
Decades of evidence show that a child’s attitude toward animals can predict future behavior. According to published reports, in every highly publicized school shooting, one warning sign appeared consistently: All the young killers abused or killed animals before turning on their classmates.

According to FBI profilers, psychiatric professionals, law-enforcement officials, and child advocacy organizations, people who hurt animals may eventually direct violence toward humans. Cruelty to animals is considered one of three symptoms that predict the development of a psychopath, and it is included as a criterion for a conduct disorder in children by the American Psychiatric Association.

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 Kindness by Example
Incorporating simple concepts of kindness and respect into kids’ daily lives is simple and fun! The easiest and most important way to teach your little ones empathy is to lead by example.

  • Listen to yourself with new ears—don’t yell “shut up,” “stupid dog,” or other hurtful things.
  • Never hit animals.
  • Show that you value animals’ lives by being patient with them, making sure that they all wear an ID tag, spaying or neutering them to prevent unwanted litters, giving them plenty of clean water, and providing regular veterinary care.
  • Include your animals in your life. Allow your dog to live inside with the family, and spend time with your animal companions daily, brushing them, playing with them, and walking them.
  • Sometimes tiny creatures wander into our homes—help them find their way out nonviolently.
  • Avoid statements that demean animals—even those made in jest—such as “I hate cats” or “Chickens are stupid.”
  • Remember that toys influence children. Don’t buy toys that even hint at animal exploitation, such as video games that allow children to kill animals or model zoos or circus trains.

Caring Activities
Show your kids that it’s cool to care by regularly engaging them in these and other fun empathy-building activities:

  • Go to your local animal shelter and volunteer with your child to help care for homeless animals.
  • Plant flowers and shrubbery for butterflies, bees, and other wildlife in your back yard.
  • During a walk at the beach, in the woods, or by a stream, pick up plastic rings, bottles, and other trash that can kill birds, turtles, dolphins, and other animals.
  • Watch animal-friendly movies, such as Chicken Run, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Shiloh, Free Willy, Babe, My Dog Skip, Finding Nemo, and Shark Tale.
  • Read your children books that show animals as feeling individuals, such as Lassie Come Home, Black Beauty, Charlotte’s Web, Frederick, Blueberries for Sal, The Forgotten Door, and Make Way for Ducklings.

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  • Johanna says:

    RedRover has a wonderful readers program that teaches educators how to read to children to build empathy for animals and critical thinking skills. Their website includes a full list of books to read to children. http://www.redrover.org

  • mary says:

    Sophia I think you mix things all together with no distinction and – in my mind – with a great deal of superficiality. Nemo’s mum is eaten by a big predator fish, which is natural and is what happens in nature, whether you like it or not. Children should be made aware of how nature works, and should be led to understand the huge difference between the course of natural processes in the wild on the one hand, and the horrors and injustice of humans towards animals on the other hand.

  • chander kumar soni says:

    thanks.

  • Patricia says:

    Wonderful, thank you! Such nice comments, very heartening. Thank you Edwin, I had never heard of the The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy. I went onto the website, really great!

  • Serena says:

    I think what they are trying to establish with the recommendation of watching movies such as “Bambi”, etc is that by watching the trials and tribulations of the animals as well as experiencing vicariously the events that happen to them throughout the stories, the children develop a desire for that fictional character to succeed, be happy, and be safe. It’s not about how they feel about the animal being an orphan. It’s events such as that that make the animal character appear more “human” and therefore relateable. Once a child thinks “I know how that makes ME feel” then they are capable of deciding whether or not they want to make an animal feel that way. The biggest problem a child has that cannot empathize with an animal is the difficulty with recognizing the ability of the creature to experience emotions and suffering the way a human does. These movies, agree with them or not, position the animal characters into a position of feeling emotions children are capable of relating to and therefore understanding. A normal child recognizes that a bad feeling is not something they want to cause anything else. Of course, to be truly effective on most children, the earlier they are taught and instilled with a protective feeling towards all creatures, the more empathetic, responsible, and respectful they become towards the whole world as they grow older. The tough part is when a parent realizes that somehow their child did not learn these lessons at an early age and now that they are older, they exhibit violence, apathy, or even cruelty without regard for any feelings of their “victims”. I think the movies are just part of what can make a child respect & empathize. Too often, children learn way too much violence and self-centeredness from over participation in video games, online communities, and movies that have no human value. We assume they are learning from us when in fact they are learning from that which they are exposed to the most. And even if we try to verbalize to them (good ol’ lecture-style) how we feel about mean behaviour, often they are thinking about their next video game move or playing with friends who also have an abnormal development of empathy. We need to interact with out children on a much deeper level, physically showing them acts of kindness and responsibility whether it’s through taking care of pets or discussing a movie about animals or volunteering to help animals and even humans. Once they experience the emotion of how good it felt to help then that gives them the basis for continuing, growing empathy towards anything else. Maybe, if we set a better example and stop letting the village raise our children, we can get back to the basics of teaching character and make the world a truly better place for everyone including nature.

  • Mimi Gray says:

    I can’t wait to share this with other parents. What a beautiful article. Teaching our childrem compassion and humanity are some of the greatest gifts we can give to them and the world.

  • Chelsea says:

    Thanks! My sisters babysit a young boy who is almost 2 and likes to pull the tail of my bigger companion dog and throw toys at my smaller companion dog ( He’s a teacup chihuahua ) So I hope these tips will help him

  • Edwin Rutsch says:

    My I suggest a further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
    http://CultureOfEmpathy.com

    We just shared this article on our 20,000 supporter list.

  • Edwin Rutsch says:

    Thanks you for a great article, we need more discussion about empathy and compassion. I hope you’ll write more articles about this. We also need to work with other causes and work together to build a culture of empathy.

    My I suggest a further resources to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews, videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
    http://CultureOfEmpathy.com

    We’re sending a link to your article to our 11,000 members of our Facebook Cause, please join:

    Teach Empathy for Animals! Help Stop Abuse, Beatings, Brutality, Cruelty, Fighting ,Suffering & Torture
    http://Causes.com/EmpathyForAnimals
    http://Causes.com/EmpathyForChildren
    http://Causes.com/EmpathyWithNature

    Also, we invite you to post a link to your article to our 1,700 members Empathy Center Facebook page.
    http://Facebook.com/EmpathyCenter

    Warmly

    Edwin Rutsch

  • Daniel says:

    Sophia I think the point here is showing that these creatures were effected by these events in the same way you would be as a human. It allows children to empathise with the characters and relate to them in a humane way.

    Animals are orphaned because of what humans are doing – was this presented in a positive light in Bambi?

    People eat fish and treat them inhumanely as pets – Does Finding Nemo promote these actions or show children how these actions effect Nemo and his friends personally from a fishes perspective?

    Dog pounds are everywhere except for cities that have an overpopulation of domesticated animals that have been abanonded or left to reproduce (which often leads to even less humane ways of dealing with this problem) – Did the Tramp go to this place and enjoy his time there? Do you think that children who watch this movie and see how the tramp is treated at the pound by the dog catcher will think that is how dogs like to be treated?

    As an childhood educator I am aware that it isn’t until around the age of 8 that children develop the ability to understand that other humans are able to have opinions that differ to their own. Imagine how hard it is for children of this age to understand that animals also have feelings and emotions that differ from their own.

    As neither a spokeperson for PETA or Disney – but as a person who has trained in areas of child psychology and development as well as early chilldhoood and childhood education; I am aware on how these movies can have such a great effect on children and their opinions towards animals.

    To sum it up. If you are honestly trying to say parents should stay clear of Disney movies then in reality you have one. A majority of children these days will be watching movies that are far beyond their level of full comprehension. They are watching movies that do no focus on treatment of animals or feelings of these animals. Most of these children are already watching movies that show characters who do not value the life of other humans – so in reality is going back to showing children that even animals deserve compassion a greater lesson to be learnt?

  • Sophia says:

    “Watch animal-friendly movies, such as Chicken Run, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Shiloh, Free Willy, Babe, My Dog Skip, Finding Nemo, and Shark Tale.”

    Are you serious? Bambi is an orphan, Nemo’s Mom get’s eaten and the little girl shakes the fish in the bag, And Shark tale… Well… it’s the mafia in shark form. Tramp is thrown into the dog pound.

    I think the friendlier path is to avoid Disney flicks all together.

    Milo and Otis is one of my son’s favorite movies. Narrated by Dudley Moore

  • Cindy Burrill says:

    What lovely comments! My husband and I are both vegetarians, and we plan on raising our daughter with respect and compassion for all living beings. Thanks PETA! Your were there when animals had no voice. You inspire me to be a better person.