Marsha from The Institute of Humane Education shares some very valuable tips for raising kind and compassionate children. As parents, it's our job to model and guide the behaviors we wish to see in our kids...and this post will show you how to do that. It will re-energize you....and make you rethink your role as a parent. These seven insightful tips should be on your "to-do-list" everyday!
Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar. - Bradley Miller
Guest blog by Marsha Rakestraw from The Institute for Humane Education (IHE)
When people are asked to list the best qualities of humans, kindness and compassion are always at the top of the list. We're able to be compassionate with others in large part because we can empathize with them. Empathy and connection are key to a healthy, compassionate person (and a healthy, compassionate world), and studies show that we're innately wired to be empathetic; even at a very young age we demonstrate (and show a preference for) empathy.
But in a culture dominated by violence, cruelty, and self-absorption, empathy and compassion must be nurtured; and studies show that young people are becoming less empathetic than in generations past. It is during the early years that the foundation for our children's beliefs and behaviors are formed. As your child's first and most important teacher, parents have an important opportunity to start building pathways to kindness and compassion for people, animals, and the earth, starting when children are very young.
Here are 7 tips for helping nurture compassion in your children:
1. Educate yourself about ways to be compassionate to people, animals, and the earth, so that when your child starts asking questions and exhibiting behaviors that do (or don't) reflect your family's values, you have the knowledge to help. Additionally, as your child gets older s/he will be exposed -- through media, friends, school, and other sources -- to messages and values that may not value compassion. By educating yourself and maintaining mindfulness, you'll be ready to take action to help protect and nourish your child's sense of compassion for others. There are a variety of resources available (including those in IHE's Resource Center).
2. Model a message of compassion. Every day you are modeling a message, and your children are watching and learning from everything you say and do. Are you modeling the message you want to convey? Consider your choices: the food you eat, how you get from place to place, the way you communicate, the products you buy, and all your other daily choices. Do they reflect your values of compassion toward animals, people, and the earth? If your actions don't match your values as much as you'd like, start making small changes, and talk to your children about why you're choosing differently.
3. Read books and tell stories showing compassion and care for others. Stories are a wonderful teaching tool, and of course, regular reading and storytelling build important communication skills. Consider the values and messages in the stories you read to your children, and look for stories that encourage compassion to animals, other people, and the earth. There are numerous resources available, including IHE's Resource Center, and websites like Vegbooks. You can also share stories from your own life about how you learned compassion for others.
4. Build reverence. We tend to protect what we love. If we want our children to connect deeply with others in the world, we need to provide them with regular experiences that nurture and celebrate their love and compassion for animals and the earth. We can engage our children's innate curiosity and invite them to observe ants, get to know a tree, learn about the other beings around them, and explore the beauty and uniqueness that is part of their world.
5. Provide direct experience with others. It's so easy to make judgments and assumptions about others when we don't know them personally. Help nurture a compassionate spirit by providing lots of opportunities to engage with others. Observe animals in their natural habitat at a park; visit a farm animal sanctuary with your child; take your child to events and locations that expose them to people of a variety of backgrounds and experiences; plant a garden; go camping; take a hike (or at least a walk around the neighborhood).
6. Gently guide their choices & help them think critically. Teach your children right away how to engage kindly with animals, other people, and the earth. If you see them involved in unkind behavior (such as hitting your family dog), have an age-appropriate conversation with them to gently guide them to a kinder choice. As children grow, instead of just telling them an answer ("We don't eat eggs because we believe it's important to be kind to animals"), we can ask them open-ended questions that help them think critically about why your family makes the choices it does.
7. Provide them with opportunities to help. Even from an early age, children can be involved in helping others. From accompanying you to take a meal to a sick neighbor, to fundraising for a compassionate cause, to volunteering as a family at an animal shelter, there are numerous opportunities to cultivate generosity and empathy. Just be careful that the experiences are age- appropriate for your child.
To gain additional tools and support for raising a conscientious, compassionate child, sign up for IHE's online course, Raising a Humane Child, which begins April 9. Find out more & register here.
Marsha Rakestraw is the Director of Online Courses, Online Communications & Education Resources for the Institute for Humane Education and is a 2005 graduate of IHE's certificate program. Although she is not a parent herself, Marsha has taught at the PreK-graduate levels and worked for more than 14 years as a children's/young adult librarian. She misses doing family storytimes, but now dedicates her time to working and volunteering as a humane educator. When not trying to make the world a better place, she's hanging with her husband or entertaining her precocious puppy and schizophrenic cat in Portland, Oregon.
If you are raising vegan kids, you will most likely not be coloring real eggs for Easter. No problem, there are many other fun ways that kids can make and decorate “eggs”, so read on for ideas!
As I child, I enjoyed dropping tablets into water-filled mugs and watching the color change. Then I would dip away, and watch as the eggs went from bright white to red, yellow and green. But now, years later, knowing what I know about how millions of hens live and die for their eggs (see below), I can’t ignore the facts. For every dip, I would have visions of miserable, frightened hens crammed into filthy, wire cages unable to even spread one wing. So I would not feel good about it and could not do it in good conscience. It's not an activity that I want my child to participate in. As a family, we try our best to vote with our dollars, and we definitely do not want to vote and in essence, give our stamp of approval for animals being treated in such cruel ways. Some traditions are better left in the past, and that is exactly where I will leave this one.
Luckily, there are many alternatives to coloring real eggs that are just as fun, arguably even more fun! Kids can buy or make wooden, glass, paper mache, clay, paper, playdough and other eggs. They can decorate these eggs with paint, crayons, markers, chalk, fabric, beads, jewels, stickers, yarn, ribbon, foil, and other materials. You can even use natural food dyes such as beets, blueberries, saffron, cranberry juice, red wine, tumeric, raspberries, and anything else you can find in your kitchen pantry that can act as a dye. Better yet, use recycled materials found around your house and outside. This will get kids thinking creatively. You can also bake vegan cookies using an egg cookie cutter, and kids can decorate those. The ideas are endless! So be creative, and have fun. Most of all, if you are going this route, don’t apologize. Be proud that you have chosen not to do an activity (no matter how traditional it is) with your child that involves using a product that came from an animal who suffered greatly and had to pay a very high price for it.
Recently, I visited one of my best friends-- she found this great recipe for clay, which she shaped into eggs, and let dry for a few days. Our kids had a great time painting them! A BIG thank you to Heidi for organizing this special activity!
Here are a few pictures of the girls painting their eggs, followed by the clay recipe so you can make it too! Enjoy!
Elizabeth and Charlotte
1/2 cup cornstarch
1cup boiling water
1) Mix all ingredients in a bowl
2) Boil to a soft ball stage (until thickened). Careful not to burn--reduce heat after boiling point.
3) Knead until dough-like
4) Wrap in wet cloth to keep for a few days
5) Form the shape that you want
6) Let dry
Last year I wrote a guest blog post for Girlie Girl Army about the egg industry and alternatives to coloring easter eggs. Here's an excerpt:More than 95% of all eggs sold in the U.S. (hundreds of millions) come from hens who spend their entire lives crammed into tiny, filthy wire cages. Each hen lives her entire life in a cage with up to 10 other hens-- each hen has a space the size of a notebook piece of paper where they are unable to spread even one wing. This is their whole existence. Thousands of these cages are piled on top of one another, causing feces and urine to fall down onto the hens below. Because of the intense confinement, hens’ beaks (including sensitive cartilage, bone, and tissue) are cut off with a searing-hot blade. Some hens are in so much pain that they are unable to eat afterward, and they eventually die miserably of starvation. Hens frequently suffer from debilitating sores, bruises, and infections, and some get their limbs caught in the wire cages. None receive veterinary care (it’s too costly), and so they succumb to a slow death. Decaying bodies of those who’ve died are left to rot among the living hens in the cage. When hens’ bodies are unable to produce more eggs (the industry calls them “spent”), so the industry does what is called “forced molting”: This is a cruel and extremely inhumane practice in which hens are kept in the dark and given no food for up to 18 days-- this shocks their bodies into another laying cycle. More eggs equal more money. By the time they are sent to slaughter, more than a quarter of all hens suffer from broken bones, and nearly all have osteoporosis because of severe calcium loss. However, these are not the only victims of the egg industry. Male chicks who neither lay eggs nor grow fast or big enough to be considered useful for their meat are considered useless and are therefore discarded. An undercover investigation at the largest hatchery in the U.S. showed innocent, confused male chicks being callously thrown alive into grinding machines, where they are dismembered and crushed, or being put into plastic bags to suffocate to death. The egg industry is a horrible business no matter which way you look at it.
For those of you wondering about free-range and cage-free eggs, those labels are not regulated, so often these are just deceptive marketing claims that companies use to sell their products. For example, “cage-free” can mean that the hens are out of cages but still crammed wing to wing in a filthy, dark warehouse, and “access to outdoors” can mean they have access to a 12-inch-by-12-inch hole in the wall that leads to a dirt pen the size of your living room, but the likelihood that more than a handful of the hundreds of hens in the warehouse will ever get out there for more than 10 minutes is very slim. Unless you are personally going to the small farm down the street to pick up your carton of eggs each week (and you have personally seen the hens and their living conditions), it’s almost guaranteed that the eggs (and all the products containing eggs) you buy in the supermarket and order at restaurants fall into the 95% of eggs obtained from factory-farmed hens. Furthermore, even if you are buying eggs from your neighbor, it still supports the eggs industry and its unethical practices, since all hens likely came from a hatchery, where “useless” male chicks are callously killed.
This is the face of battery-caged hens.
The authors of The Secret Life of Mitch Spinach give us 10 easy suggestions for encouraging kids to eat more fruits and veggies. A lot of good tips. Read and share with other parents!
So, what else can you do when your child refuses to eat anything green and seems to subsist on chicken-fingers and French fries alone?
1) Educate your kids about nutrition.The more they know the easier it will be to guide them into making good choices. Remember how smart kids really are. Don’t sell them short. If they enjoy sports, are interested in beauty, or want more energy, teach them how the foods they eat will help them do what matters to them most.
2) Make food preparation a family affair.The more you involve your kids in the preparation and selection of meals and snacks, the more willing they are to try healthy foods. Even a simple trip to the grocery store to allow them to pick out the fruits and vegetables for the week (each child in the family should get his/her own choice) can make a world of difference. Let older children find recipes online that sound good to them using healthy foods. Allow them to choose how the vegetable of the day is prepared and even help in the preparation.
3) Have a make-your-own smoothie party. Fill bowls with various ingredients, such as berries, mango, spinach, broccoli, flax or chia seeds, and let kids pick what they want. They can even turn the blender on! They love to be in control!
4) Make your own salad. The same trick will work for salads. But don’t just include lettuce. Use seeds, fruit, dried peas, anything goes!
5) Let them dip. Make a dip like hummus or use a healthy store-bought version and watch them eat string beans, carrots, celery, cucumbers, and any other veggie that you cut into strips for dipping.
6) Make veggie and fruit shapes. Thinly slice carrots and cucumbers and use tiny cookie cutters to make shapes. Everything is more fun when it’s in a shape (think silly bands).
7) Make a vegetarian soup at least one night of the week. Pureed soups are great because you can’t see what’s in them (kale is easy to use this way). You’ll be amazed what they’ll eat when it’s been whizzed in the blender or mixed with an immersion blender.
8) Remember that food preferences are formed by one’s environment and taste is a learned phenomenon. In fact, studies show it take 8-15 times before a child accepts a new food. Try a different way of preparing the same food. Once you find a way that your child likes that food, you can branch out and experiment with it because their taste buds have already adjusted to it. Food preferences and tastes are formed early in life, so it is important to introduce your children to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
9) Don't make excuses. Don't say, "My kid only eats chicken fingers." He/she is not purchasing those chicken fingers with his/her allowance. You make the rules in your house. You purchase the food. Don't buy the junk! Kids are born with survival instincts. They will not starve themselves. True hunger is difficult to deny, and when children are faced only with healthy food options their natural hunger will drive them to eat the healthy foods available, without bribing, coercing or any other schemes. Scientific research shows that children most often take on the eating habits of their parents. Once they realize that there are no other options, they will eat, and then they will begin to change their habits. So will you.
10) Lead by example. If you permit only healthy foods in the house the entire family will learn to eat properly. You can't tell your children to eat broccoli while you are eating French fries. You must show them how to eat by doing it yourself. The entire family needs to eat the same foods at mealtime. The food that is being served is the only option. Include a number of choices so that children maintain some feeling of autonomy in what they eat, but NEVER make a separate kids’ meal or allow them to order off of the kids’ menus at a restaurant. Mealtime is a communal, family time to come together. Let that attitude be reflected in the sharing of the meal. Kids’ menus are rife with terrible food. Stay away from them an order from the sides for your kids or share what you order (the portions are usually too big for one adult anyway).
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Secret Life of Mitch Spinach was written in collaboration with renowned, board-certified family physician, Joel Fuhrman, M.D., who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods.
To get kids on the right track with healthy eating, order the Mitch Spinach book series at www.Mitchspinach.com
BIO: Frustrated by the lack of a healthy, smart, cool role model for their five and six year-old children, Hillary Feerick and Jeff Hillenbrand created the Mitch Spinach children’s book series. They decided to combine their expertise (Jeff holds a BS in Exercise Physiology, and Hillary holds a BA and MA in English) to teach kids about the importance of eating healthy foods and reduce the number of children struggling with weight, chronic colds, ear infections and other nutrition-related problems.