When your child is unkind to animals it can break your heart.
It might be your family pet or an insect in the garden; you might be wondering where you went wrong!
The short answer is that you’ve done nothing wrong.
The fact that you care about your child having kindness in his or her heart is proof enough that you’re doing a good job.
So where should you start if your child is being unkind to one of nature’s creatures?
The first step is to remain calm
It’s not uncommon to jump to conclusions about animal cruelty. Since the 1970’s there have been documents and research linking psychological disorders to animal cruelty.
This is rare for most cases though.
Sometimes animal cruelty is a major red flag that needs swift intervention and professional help, but often, this a normal developmental stage for children of certain ages.
My Child is unkind to animals, what should I do?
Getting children outside in nature is important for their development and education. In any setting whether it be at home, kindergarten, at the shops, or in the garden, parents have expectations of their children’s behavior.
When a young child is unkind to an animal, we need to find out why.
Reasons may include:
- Lack of education. They just don’t know what they are doing is wrong and hurtful to the animal.
- They are modeling the behaviour they may have seen from other adults in their lives or adults in a movie or TV show.
- The young child might be seeking attention.
- The child may have acted impulsively and roughly by accident.
- Some young children can express anger and violence towards animals that they are unable to articulate as feelings and emotions. This is common in children that have experienced or witnessed domestic violence.
If you can highlight a reason behind the behaviour, you may be able to better ascertain the next course of action.
If you believe your young child has acted impulsively, is seeking attention, or doesn’t understand the pain that they’ve caused a creature, you can educate them. Explain firmly: It is not okay to hit or mistreat any creature, animal or person.
When the situation is calm, depending on the age of your child, ask them why they choose that behaviour?
Is there something that I can help you with?
Can you explain how you’re feeling?
An open conversation might provide you with answers and direction.
A further explanation might include age-appropriate discussions surrounding “animals feel pain too.” This may help to encourage empathy and compassion.
Highlight Compassion and Empathy
Discuss, role model and encourage an understanding of compassion and empathy with your child.
If your preschooler was jumping all over an ants nest, explanation that he/she has broken the little ants home. This may be enough to deter the undesired behavior.
If a child has vigorously squeezed and hugged a puppy in an attempt to show love, pointing out that the puppy yelped and ran away as soon as he was set free might soften the child’s approach next time.
Encouraging your child to help with the care of their family pet, even a pet snail, can help them to develop compassion and empathy too.
When Should I Worry?
Psychology Today encourages anyone to seek professional help in the form of a child psychologist if:
- The behaviour becomes more frequent or begins to escalate
- The child’s behaviour is from an adolescent or teenager.
- Your child has suffered or witnessed domestic violence or any other form of abuse
- Your child does not seem to have any empathy or seems to take pleasure in hurting other creatures.
Although mothers are often busy, it is important to take notice of this behaviour and monitor your child. Your child will likely learn from your guidance, compassion, and education. They will come to understand that there are better ways to get your attention; there are kinder and gentler ways to show love, and they will learn their own strength and how to be responsible for it.
When a small child is unkind to animals it’s not uncommon and does not make them a terrible human being.
Follow your instincts. If the behaviour does not improve, I would encourage you to check in with your local health care professional.