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Teach Children to be Kind to Animals

by Katherine Noyes
The Challenge

When you teach a child to be kind to animals, you help pave the way to a brighter future for all living beings. Animals benefit because the next generation has learned to treat them with respect and compassion, reducing instances of animal cruelty. Children benefit because learning about compassion and empathy early in life builds moral character, reduces violence, and builds a sense of empowerment and responsibility. And society as a whole benefits when its members are more caring towards each other and the animals who live among us.

Unfortunately, not all children are taught to be kind to animals. This gap may lead them to tease animals or otherwise disregard their feelings; in the worst cases, it can lead to acts of animal cruelty.

Animal cruelty is a heinous act punishable by law in every state, but in recent years, there has been increasing recognition of the link between animal cruelty and violence to other humans as well. For instance, it's often the case that children who commit animal cruelty have witnessed or been victims of abuse themselves: In roughly one-third of families suffering from domestic abuse, at least one child has hurt or killed a pet, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Sadly, violence begets more violence, and those who start off abusing animals often end up abusing people too. People who deliberately abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a record for drug abuse or disorderly conduct than those who don't, according to a study by American Humane. In fact, the FBI reportedly even uses reports of animal cruelty to assess the potential threat posed by suspected and known violent criminals.

One solution to ending the violence is humane education, which has recently begun to be widely recognized as an essential part of childhood education. By reaching children early in life, and focusing on instilling respect and compassion for animals, the goal is to stop potential abusers before they start.

So far, the results are encouraging: The vast majority of teachers participating in the Humane Society's humane education program say that it has increased their students' concern about animal welfare. And there are other humane education programs as well. But even if you're not a teacher, there are many things you can do to help teach children to be kind to animals. The lessons they learn will last a lifetime.

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  • Teach by example! Children learn much of what they know by watching those around them, so one of the best ways to teach children is by showing them that you care about animals. Take good care of your pets, including spaying and neutering them; involve children in building bird houses or walking shelter dogs. Speak out when you see animals being mistreated, and encourage children to do the same.
  • Volunteer to visit a classroom, club or other group of children and talk to kids about kindness to animals. Many local animal shelters and humane societies already have programs in place for humane education, so it's a good idea to start by talking to them first. (To find an animal shelter, you can enter your ZIP code at Pets911.)
  • Ideas and educational materials for teaching kids to be kind to animals are also available from:

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