It’s been proven time and again that those who hurt animals and get away with it will one day graduate to hurting people. Repeated studies have shown that cruelty against animals happens in tandem with other crimes and is an indicator of future violence. Many notorious serial killers and mass murderers had a history of unpunished animal cruelty. There’s no question, there’s a link between violence to animals and violence to people.
So is it possible the converse is true? Are those who are taught to be kind and humane children grow up to be kind and humane adults? Raising sensitive children by having them share interactions with friendly animals is a character-building exercise perfect for teaching kids kindness to animals and steering them away from bullying behavior.
Getting a companion animal and modeling responsible animal care is a practical way to teach kids how animals are vulnerable, have needs just like people and are capable of giving and receiving love. When kids make the connection that hurting an animal just because they can or because it will get other kids to like them they begin to understand what betrayal, cruelty and abuse is all about. When parents raise a family pet with gentle guidance and genuine affection, children learn to behave in kind.
Another way to teach children about kindness is to involve them when attempting to help an injured or stray animal. If a wild animal is in trouble, and you take the time to stop what you’re doing and assist that bird, rabbit or snake, you’re showing your child that an animal’s life is worth caring about. If you have a local wildlife hospital, it’s simply a matter of transporting the animal and maybe following up with a phone call to see how the patient fared. If you don’t have such a facility nearby, do some research on the Internet or enlist the help of a vet, but go the extra mile to show your child that though you’re busy, you’re not too busy to help someone in need, even if that someone is non-human. A stray cat or dog is not enjoying freedom; it’s in trouble and in need of a friend. Show your child how to safely help a lost pet get home again or find a stray pet a new home.
Choosing books with a strong animal kindness message is also an effective way of getting across the message that kindness is a character trait that’s not only important to achieve, but also to nurture. The ASPCA, HSUS and AHA websites all offer lists of award-winning books for children of all ages and reading levels. Many children’s movies carry a strong animal-friendly message. Movies such as “Babe,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” and “Over the Hedge” contain story lines that foster empathy for animals in trouble. “Charlotte’s Web,” “Big Miracle,” and “Secretariat” teach children that animals have worth and value. These movies celebrate the animals’ abilities and individuality as well as their intelligence.
Pointing out news articles about amazing animals that perform incredible feats is another way to help build interest and empathy about animals. Stories like these are everywhere: dogs saving their humans from fires or floods, cats scaring off burglars or finding their way home across many states and marine mammals beating incredible odds at sea are all stories that intrigue and delight us. Sharing fascinating facts about just how fast a falcon can fly or how many mosquitoes a bat eats in one night is another way of getting your child interested in the world around him and arousing his fascination for animals, which leads him to be genuinely impressed and empathetic to their needs. Raising a kind kid is the opposite of raising a bully, and animals are universally treated well by people of good character. If “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated," as Mahatma Gandhi declared, then how great is a nation that actively and intentionally teaches its children to treat animals, both human and non-human, with kindness and empathy?