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How To Teach A Child To Be Gentle With Animals: 20 Useful Tips

In an age where bullying is a word, we hear among children frequently, many children has come to view their pet as their best friend. Animals are non-judgmental and offers companionship in some ways that even humans can’t. So, teaching your children how to gently handle animals goes a long way in giving the best possible relationship between your children and their pets.

How do you teach your child to be gentle with animals? The best way to teach a child to be gentle with animals is by being a role model to the child especially his/her formative years. Without a parent’s deliberate contribution, a child may find it difficult to cultivate the culture of animal kindness or treating animals gently.

Apart from the above, these articles also provide interesting fun tips on how to teach a child to be gentle with animals.

“It takes nothing away from a human to be kind to an animal.”

Joacquin Phoenix.

20 Useful Tips On How To Teach A Child To Be Gentle With Animals

It is not unusual to think that children will naturally be kind to animals without having to be taught, but unfortunately, some children might not have the natural instinct of being gentle.

Teaching children to be gentle and kind to animals therefore becomes important, because as much as these animals are their owners’ friends, the least they deserve is for your children to be a friend in return. Moreover, teaching kids to respect animal life helps them to develop kindness towards all creatures and become better individual adults.

1. Give them responsibility for caring for an animal

If you care for an animal at home, give your child responsibility for meeting its basic needs by setting them age-appropriate tasks (e.g. refilling the water bowl). Teaching children the importance of responsible pet guardianship is a valuable way to nurture kindness and consideration for the needs of others.

Emphasise the importance of providing food, fresh water, and regular exercise to an animal under your care. Don’t forget to also emphasise the importance of providing regular companionship and love – animals feel loneliness, just like we do.

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Photo by sabina fratila 

2. Watch Animals in Nature

One of the best ways to teach your children how to be gentle with animals is to show them that animals have their own unique world and they don’t exist primarily to serve human beings.

By spending time to observe animals in a natural setting, you are teaching your kids how to respect animals and leave them alone if need be. This can be done by bushwalking or visiting a park.

3. Read books or watch shows about natural behaviours of animals

Most children have a natural fascination for animals and are eager to learn about them. Choose books that focus not only on the habitat, diet, and physical traits of different species but on their social, emotional and behavioural traits.

In case you have children that learn faster by watching a video than reading, then you can opt for watching tv shows that talks about animals in their natural habitat. These are shows are fun, entertaining, and incredibly educational and can be a fun way of teaching your child how to be gentle with animals

Make sure to always interact with your child about what they read or watched– you may be surprised by how insightful their responses can be.

Animal books such as “Tails Are Not for Pulling” by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen, The Forgotten Rabbit by Nancy Furstinger, illustrated by Nancy Lane and Oh, Theodore! by Susan Katz, illustrated by Stacey Schuett are good books to start with.

4. Serve as a Role Model

Kids learn by observing what the adults and other people around them do. One of the best ways to get your kids to treat animals gently is to model behaviour that respects animals. That means not hitting or kicking pets and not yelling at your pets.

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.

5. Encourage respectful behaviour and language

This tip stems from the preceding one. For toddlers and children handling animals for the first time, teach them to be gentle and to avoid touching an animal who shows clear signs of wanting to be left alone.

Discourage your child from taunting animals, even if it’s only verbal, as this can lead to a pattern of disrespect which can manifest into something more sinister down the track. Never throw anything at an animal, never yell in their face, or try to startle them. Some kids think it’s funny to spook a cat or dog, and they need to know that it’s not fun for the animal.

If you have an unwanted house guest, like a cockroach or a mouse, consider trapping it safely and releasing it outside. Children learn best by following your example, and setting an example of peaceful, considerate and respectful behaviour is one of the most powerful lessons they can learn from you.

6. Visit a local animal shelter

Visiting a local animal shelter will teach your child about the positive and negative impacts humans can have on other animals. Thousands of healthy, unwanted dogs and cats are abandoned and euthanised every year due to human actions.

Animals shelters play a crucial role in rehoming abandoned animals and giving them a second chance to find a loving home. You can help your child make a difference by donating food and blankets or making handmade pet toys for shelter dogs and cats.

Creating signs and posters to educate the local community on responsible pet guardianship is another way you can work together to create awareness. By practising active citizenship in your community and participating in volunteer work, your child will learn how to make positive change in the lives of others.

7. Pet the Right Way

“Gentle” is a word parents need to repeat when teaching children how to handle animals. Some kids will naturally use a soft touch, while others will want to grab or pinch or pull. Teach your kids to pet furry animals in the direction their hair goes and to avoid touching sensitive areas.

Again, use “gentle touch,” and show them how it’s done. You should also teach your children to avoid pulling tails. Tails are usually tempting for toddlers especially. Remind little ones that even though tails look like they’d be fun to grab, they’re not handles. Keep the message simple for younger children like “No pulling”, “Gentle touch”, “No Hitting” etc.

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8. Learn an Animal’s Discomfort Signals and Respect Them

Teach kids that animals who are scared will try to protect themselves. If an animal is trying to get away, let it go. Don’t chase after it, even if you want it to come back.

Hissing and growling are obvious signs that an animal is upset or scared. Show them the body language that dogs and cats (or other animals they might be around) can give as warning signs. Explain that the Golden Rule applies to animals as much as it does humans.

9. Take Your Children to a Vet

Having your children 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.

10. Help the Animals Who Live in Your Backyard

If you have a squirrel, bird or other animal living in your backyard, work with your child 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.

11. Entertainment that Harms Animals

Just as you want to model good behaviour for your children, 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.

12. Clean-Up Garbage 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.

13. 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. Choose adoption as an option, instead of buying. That way you can change a pet’s life who needs a family and home and also show your child what good he/she will be doing by giving an animal a home. The pet 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.

14. Give Your Child Pet-Related Responsibilities

You can teach your child how to be gentle with animals, by getting the child a pet and then giving 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.

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(15-17) You can assign roles and responsibilities to your children according to their age. Such as the one below:

Toddlers to age 5:

  • help parents put food and water in pet dishes.
  • clean and put away pet dishes.
  • put away pet toys.
  • help with brushing and grooming.
  • play with the pet.

Ages 5-10:

  • put food and water in dishes, still with some adult supervision.
  • heavier level of help with cleaning and maintenance of pet areas.
  • grooming and bathing, depending on size and personality of the pet.
  • help with exercise and walking, depending on size and personality of the pet.
  • clean up after pet when it goes to the bathroom.

Ages 10 and up:

  • From age 10, children can assume all responsibilities for pet care, except it is a large, unruly animal.

In addition, here are some ways to encourage responsible behaviour among children:

  • Praise your child every time a pet chore is done without having to ask.
  • Try to reward your child in a way with a fun pet activity.
  • If they start to lapse on their responsibility, offer gentle reminders.
  • If problem persists, sit down with your child and see what can be done to make it more effective.
  • Finally, be a good example yourself.

18. 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. In cases where this is not possible, it is advisable to separate them.

19. Have Them Ask Before Petting or Approaching a Strange Animal

Along with teaching your kids how to be with animals and pets, 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.

20. Support Animal-Friendly Companies

Research companies with your kids to find those that treat their animals humanely, that avoid product testing on animals, and that support animal organizations and rescues. In taking the time to help, being a positive role model, and in supporting others who treat animals with kindness and compassion, you can truly teach your children how to be gentle with animals.

  1. Separate children and animals including pets during noisy high-energy play, when food is present, and when the animal or child is sleeping.
  2. Another way to teach a child to be gentle and kind is to role play or practice with puppets or stuffed animals. Ask your child to demonstrate what not being gentle or kind looks like then praise them for doing a fantastic job of not showing gentle or kind. Then practice showing gentle and kind the right way and praise them again for a job well done.  The best way to reinforce a behaviour is to catch your child being gentle and kind on their own and praise them in the moment.
  3. If you feel like your child struggles more than most with gentle touch your child could have a sensory processing disorder. A sensory processing disorder is an over-response or an under-response to a stimulus. An occupational therapist familiar with sensory integration can assess your child and determine if therapy is necessary.
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Things To Remember When Teaching Your Children How To Be Gentle With Animals

  • While animals can be fun, they can also be dangerous.
  • Always supervise your child around any animal.
  • Teach your children to play safely with pets, and to avoid or respond to danger signs.
  • Know what to do in case of an emergency.

Important Factors To Consider When Bringing A Pet Home

  • Adopt your pet from someone you trust. Your veterinarian (vet) will be able to offer suggestions.
  • Consider the final adult size of your pet when deciding which kind to adopt. Don’t forget that they grow and might get bigger than you are prepared to handle.
  • Make sure your pet sees the vet every year and has all vaccinations.
  • Have your dog or cat spayed or neutered.
  • Get veterinary care when your pet is sick.
  • Watch for any contact your pet has with other animals that might carry disease.

When You Have A Pet In Your Home:

  • Teach your children to treat animals gently and with respect.
  • Never leave a young child alone with an animal. Accidents can happen when children tease pets or touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable.
  • Involve your child in the care of your pet. This helps children learn a sense of responsibility.
  • Make sure your pet has a quiet and comfortable place to go. Don’t allow your pets to sleep with children.
  • Do not allow your pet to roam alone in a baby’s room.
  • Don’t allow your pet to lick your child’s face or any cuts or scratches.

What Does Pet Ownership Teach Kids?

Pets teach kids to be more caring towards others. Children generally are focused on their own needs. Having a pet will teach them to serve others’ needs as well.

Having a pet means the life and well-being of another living creature is in your hands. The biggest responsibility is love. It can take a lot of time, money and energy. You have to be committed and work hard.

Before pet ownership, there are certain things that must be considered such as the pet’s life span, how much time you and your child have to commit to your pet and the costs involved.

Before getting a pet, ask these questions: Why does the child want a pet? How mature is the child? Can he/she handle the responsibility and if not, will you help? How will the new pet affect the rest of the family and other pets already in the home?

Pets can be a very positive experience for children. They offer companionship, entertainment and education. However, they require care, attention and maintenance and also involve a financial commitment. They teach great responsibility, but the rewards can be very positive!

The children also need to learn what happens when they don’t take care of their pets. And we have had several accidents or deaths when proper care was not given.

Part of pet responsibility is how children treat their pets. There are certain behaviours that should be banned, otherwise the child may be at risk of getting bit or scratched by the pet. They can also seriously hurt the animal. Excessive hugging and kissing, chasing, running, screaming, poking, teasing, handling roughly and riding on, are all behaviours that should be avoided.

Responsibilities of Pet Ownership

Children may need adult supervision when interacting with some pets. Don’t expect too much from younger children. For example, cleaning a cat’s litter box can be very dangerous, as small children touch their eyes and mouth and may not properly wash their hands after doing the task.

Don’t overwhelm the child. It will discourage them from taking care of the pets and therefore will resent them. Then the pets will be the ones who suffer in the long run.

Parents must be clear about the responsibilities of pet ownership before a pet is received. And if a child does not care for the pet as she should or neglects assigned duties, perhaps a loss of privileges should be the consequences.

The lifelong commitment and responsibility to a pet ultimately rests on the adults in the house, not the children. If you’re not sure whether your child is read for a pet, especially a cat or a dog, consider fostering an animal for a short while.

This will serve several purposes; you and your child can see what it actually requires to take care of this type of pet and animal rescue organizations are always in need of care for strays or abandoned pets. Your child may also want to volunteer at the local shelter to become familiar with what it takes to own a pet.

Apart from teaching your child how to be gentle with animals, having a pet is an incredibly rewarding experience for your children and can provide a lifetime of memories, education, responsibility and most of all, love.

Importance of Teaching Children to be gentle with Animals

  • Your children seeing animals behaving kindly to other animals shows them that they can be kind to anyone!
  • Studies have shown that interaction with animals makes us happier and healthier
  • When children care about animals, they care about protecting them. This means the animals themselves and their habitats. Exposure to animals could foster a love of the planet and protecting it and the living things that inhabit it.
  • Teaching your child for instance, to “speak dog”, teaches them how to speak to everyone. When children learn that their tone indicates to a dog their needs, they can then begin to notice their tone with others.
  • Teaching Children how to be gentle with animals is a great place to start teaching children kindness, doing good for others that can never repay you.

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