According to Jewish teaching, compassion should be extended not only to humans, but also to animals. For example, the Talmud tells us that before we sit down to a meal, we must first feed our domestic animals. This teaching expresses the intention that animals are to be treated with kindness, attention, and respect.
Teaching our children to care for animals with compassion leads to children who respect and treat each other with kindness. According to the National PTA Congress, “Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind, and considerate in their relations to each other.”
Children do not instinctively understand the importance of treating animals kindly; they need to be taught. Incorporating acts of kindness to the furry, feathered, and finned animals that children encounter can be simple and fun. Feeding and handling animals gives children opportunities to learn. If you have pets at home, the easiest and most important way is to lead by example. Show children how to properly walk their dog or gently play with their cat. Teach them the importance of keeping clean a bird cage or fish bowl. Remind them that pets need plenty of water and need to eat on a regular schedule, just like people. Show children that you value animals by being patient with them. Hitting or yelling at pets is cruel and harmful, just as it is to children. Caring for animals means that we protect them, keep them clean, give them attention and affection.
If you don’t have animals at home, there are still many opportunities to learn to treat them with kindness. Sometimes tiny creatures wander into our homes. Children can help them find their way out nonviolently. Avoid statements that demean animals, such as, “I hate mice” or “Birds are stupid.” Model behavior that protects animals. Take a walk at a beach or park and pick up plastic rings, bottles, and trash that can harm birds, dolphins, and other animals.
Supervision and guidance are necessary for children to understand how to treat animals with care. Here are are some suggestions for parents:
- Read books about animals to open dialog about kind behavior towards them.
- Watch movies about animals, such as Chicken Run, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Shiloh, Free Willy, Babe, My Dog Skip, Finding Nemo, Milo and Otis, and Shark Tale. Talk about who treated the animals with kindness and who did not.
- Teach the importance of gentle touching. Guide children by showing them how to be gentle and slow when approaching an animal. Young children may show too much enthusiasm and inadvertently be rough.
- Teach children that teasing an animal is unkind and that startling or frightening an animal can cause them to respond aggressively.
- Teach caution with regard to unfamiliar animals. Prepare children to be aware of the warnings that animals give, such as, growling, hissing, barking, and baring their teeth.
The practice of respecting, protecting, and caring for animals will help children to behave with kindness, not only toward animals, but also toward other children.
The Talmud derives this from the verse, “And I will give grass in your field for your livestock”—and only thereafter “and you will eat and be sated.”
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Terrier Image courtesy of SOMMAI at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Cockatoo Image courtesy of 2nix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Turtle Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net