Kids do what you do, not what you say. Cruel adults usually begin their patterns of abuse as children with brutality to animals. Parents have an opportunity to instill kind behavior in their children by teaching the importance of a respectful relationship with people, pets and the planet. Protection and kindness are learned behaviors that parents can pass down to their children and grandchildren. Here are a few basics that can help teach a young child to be kind.
1. Let Sleeping Birds Lie
We have all seen the photo of a young child running on the beach with a flock of birds startled into the air. “Wings of Hope” and the Collier Audubon society say, “Never force birds to fly. If you see birds on a beach, walk around them quietly. They are resting!” Tiptoe past the birds and tell your child the birds are sleeping. Act disappointed if you see other children disturbing the birds. Never disturb the baby turtle nests.
2. Kelly’s Habitat
Pick a far corner of your yard and let your child plant a native wildlife habitat. Select plants or trees that birds and butterflies build nests in or enjoy as food sources. Name the habitat after your child and encourage him or her to observe and record all the species they find in their habitat.
3. Communicate Your Special Love
Talk to your children about a dear pet that you had as a child and how important the animal was to you. Find an old photo of you and your pet to show that you cared deeply for a pet when you were their age. Reminisce and share the importance of your pet even though they are gone.
4. Safe or Dangerous
If you witness a young child treating an animal unkindly, take action to protect the animal immediately. However, rather than react violently yourself, speak in an exaggerated sad voice reassuring the animal that “Little Billy did not mean to hurt you and now he is very sorry and wants to treat you kindly.” Remember the child sees images of attacking animals in cartoons, storybooks and television. The child cannot judge the appropriate reaction to an animal without guidance from others. Toddlers have no ability to judge whether he or she should kill an animal or care for an animal. Expect children to be harsh with anything that frightens them and make the wrong decision about new situations. Give the child an opportunity to treat the animal gently one last time. If the child teases hurtfully or reacts violently to the animal again, put the child in time out for the number of minutes that matches their age. Deny the child access and opportunity to abuse the animal and supervise future interaction. Handling or caring for an animal is a privilege earned by good behavior.
5. Not Tested on Animals
Buy products and cosmetics free from cruel testing and blinding of animals. Be outspoken about why you are choosing one mascara over the other and donate your old fur coats to a wild animal conservancy to use as beds for orphaned wolf cubs and fox kits.
6. Death by Any Other Name
Remember that veal means infant cow, bacon is a pig and Thanksgiving dinner is a turkey. You can find organic milk from free roaming pasture-raised cows available even at Starbucks. Some people have chosen to eat vegetables rather than animals. You may always choose to eat meat but it is not really a steak, it is a cow.
7. Hemp, Cotton and Wool
The latest products – that require nothing “to die for,” easily replace your leather designer purse, matching shoes or mink collar. Buy your family’s clothing from companies that treat their workers humanely and boycott sweatshop products that use child labor and slave wages.
8. Discipline Means Teaching
Give ample affection and fun to your child. Teach them to follow sane simple rules but watch out that your well-meaning discipline never crosses over the line to child abuse. Millions of parents have raised children without spanking, hitting, swearing or shaming.
9. Mr. Rogers, Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street
Children learn kindness from watching adults. Turn off the ridiculous hypnotic violence in film and television. Advertisers care more about ratings than about protecting your child from visual scenes of abuse that he or she may never forget. A child’s psyche benefits from healthy programming for children and the absence of sadistic shows.
10. You Got the Whole Wide World in Your Hands
The Sierra Club recommends Energy star-rated light bulbs and sensors that turn lights on and off. Explain to your child about the planet’s threshold for pollution and the serious consequences human actions can have on the Earth.
Some choices may be difficult and take extra effort. Learning to be kind will make your child stronger in their character, ethics, morality and more certain about right and wrong when faced with difficult teenage decisions. Your self-esteem goes up when you do the right things and you become kind to yourself, too. Remember little faces are watching you. Your own behavior choices, not your words, will define kindness for your child.
Dr. Molly Barrow holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of the new book, “Matchlines: A Revolutionary New Way of Looking at Relationships and Making the Right Choices in Love.” She is an authority on relationship and psychological topics, a member of the American Psychological Association and a licensed mental health counselor. Dr. Molly has appeared as an expert on NBC, PBS, KTLA, WBZT and in O Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsday, The Nest, MSN.com, Yahoo, Match.com, N Magazine, Women’s Health and Women’s World. Please visit: http://www.askdrmolly.com http://www.DrMollyBarrow.com/
Photograph by Atom McCree.