How to develop animal empathy in children
Empathy is the capacity we have to put ourselves in the place of the other person or being , getting to understand him/her and knowing how he/she feels. It has a very important function, and that is that, thanks to it, we can relate better to others and thus favour social relations.
Being empathetic is not only beneficial for the people around us, it also benefits us, as it helps us in our adaptation to the environment and emotional development. That is why we can say that it is the basis of many other skills, such as social skills, emotional intelligence, etc
Although human beings are born with the capacity to be empathetic, this is a quality that develops as we grow up. This is why the people close to the child’s environment are fundamental for the development of empathy to take place properly .
Is it important to have empathy for animals?
We all agree that children should develop a good empathy with their peers, yet many people show no interest in the relationship children have with animals . However, we should consider whether connecting emotionally with other living beings is also beneficial for child development, since there are studies that have observed the relationship between violence and animal abuse such as Ascione (1997-1998), who observed significant scores in her studies on the relationship between domestic violence and animal abuse.
In a natural way the child feels attracted to animals, this is what is called biophilia; however, education and environment make the behavior that children have towards other species in one way or another; it can be respectful, indifferent or aggressive. On the other hand, there are studies that lead us to think that instilling respect and relationship with animals helps us to also maintain positive relationships with others. Authors such as Serpell (1999) state that the presence of animals enhances our attitude of attention, care, companionship, safety, comfort and fun.
What is clear is that the child-animal relationship creates an opportunity for emotional expression without any negative consequences.
Do you want to encourage empathy towards animals in your children?
If you like animals and want to share a home with them, fine, but you don’t need to have a pet for your children to develop love for them.
And it’s not enough to have them at home either, you have to teach them. Just having them at home does not guarantee that they will be cared for by your children.
If you are interested, you can follow these steps:
1. Be his model
This is the most important thing. Always remember that children have a great capacity to learn everything that happens in their daily lives. You have to be their role model in this as in all the important things in life. Just as he sees that you treat animals, they will do the same . Speak well in their presence, don’t shout or punish the animals. Your children should see that you respect them.
2. Reading animal stories
Encouraging children to read is very beneficial , and if we use books about animals we will manage to achieve two valuable objectives: that they read and that they learn about them.
It is important to choose the right book for their age and to share the moment with them. Reading the book together is important, because many questions may arise that you need to be able to answer.
I leave you some examples of books: Rescate animal (Patrick George), Salvemos a los animales (Frances Barry), Una sola cosa (Celeste Sánchez Demare).
3. Visit a nearby shelter
I’m sure you’ve got some protective shields nearby in your area. You can make an appointment for the children to see the shelter and observe how the animals that are abandoned live. You can also go to talks given by the animal shelters , or ask them to explain to your children some of the subjects you think they have more doubts about.
4. Share talks with them
The animal world is very large and has many things to know . Choose a specific topic to start a conversation with them. The needs of pets, abandonment, how shelters, zoos help . If there are topics that you don’t know about, it is important that you inform yourself first so that you can respond well to their doubts.