For kids with pets in the home, as well as kids who may encounter pets (read: all kids), it is massively important to teach them respect and kindness towards animals. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. The reasons are threefold: safety, teaching empathy, and of course, the humane treatment of our four-legged friends.
When children meet a furry pet for the first time, they typically either: A. Very excited, or B. Terrified. The terrified ones tend to not have been exposed to pets in their own home, or those of family/friends. We’ve probably all seen pictures people have taken of their kids manhandling their pets, and the owners and/or parents often think it’s cute to see how tolerant the animal is, and how much the two “love” each other. This can be a very dangerous situation, however. All kids should learn, as soon as they can touch a pet, that they need to ask the owner if it’s OK before petting (obviously babies will need their caretaker’s help here), as not all dogs are friendly to strangers, or to children. Just as some kids are terrified of dogs, some dogs are terrified of kids (and a dog’s natural reaction when scared can be to bite). If your child lives with a dog or cat that is highly tolerant, it’s still very important that they treat the pet with kindness and to know that not all animals will put up with rough treatment.
Teaching your children kindness towards animals also teaches them something that extends to their human relationships as well: empathy. They learn, hands on, that their touches can be kind, or they can cause pain. How do children learn this? Well, beyond telling your children to ask before petting a new animal, or telling them to stop pulling the dog’s tail, your children watch how you interact with pets and model their behavior accordingly. If they see somebody kick a dog or cat, or hear about a terrible act, they may think it’s OK to do as well. It’s worth saying to your children, if they witness somebody mistreating an animal, that the action was unkind. It may seem obvious to you, but children need help navigating things like this.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, is treating animals gently and teaching our children to do the same is of course the humane thing to do. Yes, it’s fantastic to have totally laid-back and tolerant pets. We have been fortunate to have both tolerant dogs and even a cat in our home. However, we do not let our kids abuse that tolerance; deliberately causing pain or discomfort is not acceptable, and we all know and model that rule.
Meaghan Howard is a stay-at-home mom to three little boys, a dog, two cats and a goldfish. Her family’s home is and has been a foster home as well to countless dogs and cats over the last ten years.