By Narayan Khalsa:
Most parents have certain values, beliefs and even skills that they work to teach their children as they grow up and make sense of the world. It’s important for us to pass on to our kids the values that we think are important for a happy and healthy life. They might want them to be kind to those in need or to appreciate music or other cultures. And for many people, a respect and love of animals is one of these values.
All families are different, but a great many include pets that are an important and treasured part of the family. But just having a pet in the house doesn’t automatically mean that your children will develop good relationships with our four-legged friends.
It’s critical that we facilitate those relationships using a few key guideposts.
- Respect Their Natural Instincts
Even the most gentle and domesticated animals have natural instincts that we must respect and that must take priority. This is especially true because when these natural behaviors and desires are threatened or violated, animals can act as they would with a threat in nature.
- Always touch gently.
- Don’t try to play with or touch pets when they’re eating.
- Don’t yank on an animal’s collar or leash.
- Offer new animals your hand to smell before petting.
- Don’t do anything that would surprise or startle them.
- Listen to Their Signals
Though our pets can’t speak to us about what they want or how they’re feeling, they almost always show us. The key is teaching children how to understand the body language of animals so they know how to safely and respectfully interact with them.
Though we want our children to become attuned to all of our pets’ behaviors, the first step is making sure they can detect when the animal may want to be left alone so as to avoid any unnecessary confrontations.
Signs in dogs include bared teeth, a completely closed mouth, partly closed eyes, raised tail and disinterest. Warning signs in cats include meowing, hissing, tail twitching, ear flattening, and back arching. Always make sure that kids know to approach new animals with caution only after asking their owners for permission.
- Take Responsibility
Whether you adopt your pet when your children are very little or slightly older, it’s essential that you involve them in the various responsibilities of caring for an animal. Even when kids are as young as 4 or 5, you can begin including them in activities like taking the dog for a walk or refilling the cat’s water bowl. Children should understand that the joys of having a pet come with daily responsibilities as well.
All too often, adults adopt pets without a full understanding that an animal’s care isn’t always just the fun stuff. (The dog is great to play with, but you also have to pick up his poop and give him a bath.) If you teach your children about these responsibilities early, you can help them avoid making rash decisions about pet adoption later in life. Plus, if you’re lucky, that sense of duty will spread to other parts of their lives!
- They Aren’t Toys
It’s natural for your little ones to want to treat the family pet like a toy that’s there solely for entertainment. So it’s your job to teach gently and show your kids that animals are independent, living beings with their own moods and desires.
That means that just because the kids feel like playing with Spot doesn’t mean that Spot feels like playing with the kids at that moment. We tell children that it’s never okay to force another person to play or lie down or wear a silly costume, and it’s important that we teach them not to force an animal to do those things, either.
- Understand the Life Cycle
How you address the circle of life and death with your kids is entirely up to you. The important thing is that you think about how you’ll explain to young children that their beloved furry friend will not always be there. Even if you have a baby animal, you ought to think about the explanation now so you’re ready for the unexpected, just in case.
If you have a partner, the two of you should decide what you’ll say when the time comes to say goodbye to your pet. It should be something that you both feel comfortable with, something that you think your kids will understand. Personally, I recommend being truthful as sensitively as you can — for many kids, a pet’s death is the first death they deal with in their lives, and dealing with it honestly can help them begin to truly understand the life cycle.
The best thing about teaching kids about healthy relationships with animals is that the basic principles are the same for people as well. And learning these lessons early helps children grow into empathetic, kind and sensitive adults who respect other living beings.
Narayan Khalsa is a co-founder of Effective Pet Wellness, a conscientious company that is committed to the natural care and holistic health of animals. As a natural pet and horse care practitioner, Narayan’s main passion is helping animal guardians improve their animals’ lives and health through a natural approach. To learn more, visit Http://www.Effectivepetwellness.com today.