Be a Good Example
Kids learn by observing what the adults and other people around them do. One of the best ways to get your kids to respect animals is to model behavior that respects animals. That means not hitting or kicking pets and not yelling at your pets.
Don’t Say Negative Things About Animals
Part of modeling respect for animals involves not saying mean things about them. If a squirrel dashes in front of your car while you’re driving, don’t yell out “dumb animal!” It might not mean much to you, but your kids will hear it and think it’s OK to say.
Show Kindness to All Animals
Being kind to all animals can be a challenge. It means not killing bugs you find in the house and using humane traps to catch mice or rodents. Doing these things might be less convenient for you. But it sends a message to your kids that’s important to respect all living creatures.
Take Your Children to a Shelter
One way to teach your kids to respect animals is to take them to a shelter to visit dogs and cats. Your family can make a habit of volunteering at your local animal shelter. Spend a few hours every month or so playing with abandoned pets or otherwise giving them care. Not all shelters take young volunteers, so make sure you call and ask first.
Take Your Kids to a Vet
Having your kids visit a veterinarian can help them learn more about why it’s important to be kind to and respect animals. A vet can give your family pro tips for caring for animals and help kids understand more about what makes animals tick.
Visit a Zoo or a Farm
If your child has limited daily exposure to animals, a visit to a local zoo or a farm can be ideal. Modern zoos are much better than the zoos of the past. They actually let animals enjoy a simulated natural habitat and can help your kids learn more about how animals live.
Watch Animals in Nature
Part of teaching your kids to respect animals is teaching them to leave the animals alone. Spend time observing animals in a natural setting. It can be in your backyard, at a nearby park or on a camping trip.
Help the Animals Who Live In Your Backyard
If you have a squirrel, bird or other wild animal living in your backyard, work with your kids to find a way to help it, without disturbing it. You can build a birdhouse or bird feeder or create a pile of leaves for the squirrel to hide or play in.
Skip Entertainment that Harms Animals
Just as you want to model good behavior for your kids, you also want to skip any programs or toys that disrespect animals. Circuses that still use elephants are an example. Circuses have been accused of mistreating their performing elephants. In 2016, Ringling Bros. Circuses took the elephants out of it shows after years of complaints.
Clean Up Litter That Can Harm Wildlife
Another way to teach your kids to respect animals is to teach them to make choices that don’t harm wildlife. Take your kids to the park, beach or other public area and spend the day picking up litter. Explain the risk of certain types of litter to your kids. Ducks can get stuck in plastic soda can rings or small birds can chew and swallow pieces of plastic.
Read Books Together About Animals
A number of books for kids show animals in a positive light. These books can feature animals doing something helpful, such as “Charlotte’s Web.” They can also provide information about real animals, such as books about elephants or lions in nature. Some books feature a child and an animal being friends, which can help your child develop empathy and respect for animals.
Watch TV or Movies About Animals
Not everyone’s into books. If it’s a challenge to get your kids to read, watch a TV show or movie that features animals. “The March of the Penguins” is a good one for showing animals in their natural setting. “Chicken Run” uses humor to help people sympathize with animals. “Finding Nemo,” “Bambi,” and “Free Willy” are a few more movies that help kids learn to love animals.
Consider Getting a Pet
If you have the space, the time and the inclination, consider bringing home a pet to help your children learn to love and respect animals. It doesn’t have to be a dog or a cat. Fish or a hamster can be great pets for families that don’t have much space. Your child will learn to care for the animal and will come to love and care for it like another member of your family.
Make a Pretend Pet
A pretend pet can be a great substitute when you can’t get a real pet. Teach your child to care for the pretend pet like he or she would a real one.
Give Your Child Pet-Related Responsibilities
If you give your kids a pets, make sure you give them responsibilities related to the care of the pets. Even the youngest of kids can take care of filling up a cat’s water bowl or playing fetch with the dog. Assigning your child responsibilities related to the pet will help him or her see how his or her actions affect the animal’s well-being.
Teach Them How to Pet Animals
Kids aren’t born knowing how to pet or play with a dog or cat. You need to show your child how to pet animals. Distinguish between rough play and gentle play with the pets, so that your child understands what’s the right way to pet and what isn’t. Explain to your kids that animals like to be touched or pet in some ways but can become very upset if their tails are pulled or their fur tugged on.
Watch Your Child Interact with Animals and Step in if Needed
Even if your kids are older, it’s important to keep an eye on their interactions with animals. That way, you can step in and correct them if necessary. For example, a small child might start out playing gently with a cat, but might start teasing it, upsetting the cat. In that case, you can swiftly intervene and show the child how to pet the cat again.
Offer Praise When Your Kids Are Kind to Animals
Just as you should show your kids how to be kind to animals, you praise them when they are kind to animals. If your child is playing nicely with the family cat or dog, tell him or her “good job.” Create a star chart and reward your child when he or she remembers to feed the cat or walk the dog.
Have Them Ask Before Petting or Approaching a Strange Animal
Along with teaching your kids how to interact with wildlife and the family pet, it’s important to teach them how to interact with other people’s pets. Since you don’t know what a strange animal is like, stress that it’s important that your kids ask before they try to pet one. Some animals are skittish around strangers or don’t like to be petted. Some owners are pretty particular about who touches their pets and might object if your child tries to pet theirs.
Animals need their space. Tell your child not to go up to a pet who is sleeping and not to bother a mama dog who is with her puppies.
Tell Them What to Do If They Feel Scared Around an Animal
A child who respects animals shouldn’t necessarily fear animals. But, he or she should know what to do around an animal that feels threatening. Teach your kids to stand still and not run if they come into contact with a strange or scary dog. It’s also important that they know not to make eye contact with the dog.
Teach Them to Be Like a Log
Sometimes, dogs can get too rough when playing with small kids. If you have a big dog and a small child, teach the child what to do if the dog knocks him or her over. Instead of lashing out, remind your child to be like a log. That means your kid should roll over and be still, until the dog has calmed down or until you’ve come to the rescue.
Learning to love and respect animals starts from a young age. If you want your child to love cats, dogs and other creatures, introduce him to animals early on. Remember to stress the importance of being kind to everyone, not just furry, feathery or scaly creatures.