Animals and insects are interesting and unusual and spark curiosity in children. Their ears are different, their tails are tuggable, and their fur or skin is oh so enticing, whether slithery like a snake or furry like a cat.
We want our children to explore the world and learn about nature and the creatures who live in it. But we also need to keep them safe with guidelines. Teaching toddlers how to be gentle with animals takes time, demonstration, and repetitiveness.
This article offers some tips on how to teach children to be gentle (and occasionally cautious) of animals.
Expose them to a mix of creatures and teach them consent
Petting zoos, farms, bird worlds, or snake shows are wild fun for kids. Some animals like to engage while others don't. The main rule for your kiddo here is: Ask before you touch! Permission to touch the neighbor's dog is the first step to your child asking if they can feel the giraffe, ride the sheep, catch the chicken, or pet the snappy parrot.
From a young age, your child is watching you, so even if they're stuck in a stroller, show them how to pet the animals, which ones to be careful of, and how to feed animals correctly (flat hands for horses!).
Be consistent in your approach towards all animals
Teaching your baby and toddler overall pet and animal kindness is vital here! Ideally, you'll raise your child to show compassion towards their kitten, which can also translate into showing a cautious kindness to other animals they might meet, like a mouse, bee, or rabbit.
Your example speaks volumes. Relocating the harmless spider from the living room may be your biggest nightmare, but it shows your child that every little creature (except mosquitoes) matters. Put on a brave face and give spidey a name, while at the same time, displaying appropriate handling of the creature.
Talk about animal behavior and guide through roleplay
Roleplay is an effective tool for learning. From kitchen make-believe to acting like a parent to their baby doll, our kids like to act out real-life scenarios. Next time your little one is pretending to be a cat, stroke them gently and greet them with kind words. Fostering kindness towards their stuffed panda can also teach your child to opt for gentle touch and kindness.
Reading books to your child about different characters is another helpful method for teaching them how to be gentle with animals. During the story, talk to your kid about how to engage with that animal: "Freeze and call mama if you ever see a snake," "do you like spiders - why or why not?" "Did you know bees are important?" "Why do we need to be kind to ants?" "Do you remember the horse we met at the farm? Remember, we never stand behind horses."
Your prompting, guiding, practicing, and repetition will become the inner voice that leads them to socialize with animals correctly and safely.
Praise your child when they get it right!
Did your toddler save a ladybug from their splash pool? Or bring you a worm out of the garden? While you may not want to caress a slimy earthworm, praise them for using peaceful hands. Tell them you love how curious they are and how they saved the bug from drowning. Then encourage them to put them back in their habitat.
Positive reinforcement works for everyone. It's tricky when you've been asking your toddler not to climb on the dog's back for the twentieth time in 10 minutes. While a firm "no!" is essential, so is praise for engaging favorably. When your baby is gently cuddling your pet, or your preschooler finally remembers how to hold their cousin's hamster, make sure you praise them for being so kind.
Teach them to recognize danger and warning signs
There may come a time when the most gentle animal snaps because your toddler has repeatedly slammed into them with their bike. Talk to your child and guide them to notice when animals display signs of anxiety or aggression.
Start with simple instructions, pointing out that the pet doesn't look happy when chased, or "look how sad their eyes are." When your child is older, your instructions can extend to what to do if an animal snaps at them or shows its teeth.
Depending on what animals you encounter, your child can learn the correct behavior. Suppose you live in an area with snakes; teach your child about different snakes, explaining how some are dangerous and can hurt us. Show them how to act if you see a snake while playing in the garden (again, roleplay is a great way to demonstrate freezing and retreating when a snake is nearby).
Keep fear out of the equation. Instead, teach your child respectful caution and care.
#Familygoals: loving nature and its inhabitants
Your child has a curious mind from a young age as they learn how to interact with the planet. Save has some frugal ideas for getting out of the house and on an adventure. Read some of our articles, from Spring Activities for Nature Lovers to Ways to Keep Kids Entertained While You're Traveling and Ways To Get More Involved In Your Community.
Living within your means during this busy season of your life is possible. Save prioritizes sticking to your budget while focusing on raising your family. Check your weekly Save mailer for deals and coupons for your next family adventure.