Monday, August 5, 2013

Teaching Kindness to Animals Helps Children Develop Empathy

Teaching children about kindness to animals is one way to help children develop empathy and a respect for others.

A presentation to attentive elementary school children about kindness, as shared through Toby's story.  Toby is on the floor sound asleep beside Christopher... waiting for his cue to participate in the conversations.

Bullying is a serious issue, and one that requires attention and skill building.  After working with thousands of young offenders and troubled youths, I know one thing for sure. Children who develop empathy, learn healthy problem solving and communication skills, and have a support system are much better prepared to deal with difficult situations, and bullying behavior.  One such way to build empathy, unconditional acceptance and leadership is with the help of animals.

Our dog Toby was an animal assisted therapy dog, and was a great teacher to help children learn about leadership. We explained to the children that dogs do not understand your verbal communication when it is unclear. Children learned to speak up confidently, and clearly so that Toby the dog understood their request (e.g. "stay", "sit", "fetch the ball", "come", "good boy!") and his attentive and loving response seemed to engage the children more. They learned that when walking a dog on leash, the human guides the dog and clearly states their expectations. Reinforcing the desired behavior in Toby was expressed by the children through their focused attention, and praise/positive feedback.  Correcting his behavior (e..g. if Toby didn't sit when requested), the children learned to communicate respectfully and clearly, not our of frustration, while also teaching patience (with Toby, themselves and others).  The conversations about how to translate these learnings into our human interactions in the classroom, on the playground, at home and in the community were incredible to be a part of. 

One grade 2 child said "You have to be a buddy... just like Toby!"  That comment inspired me to write my second children's book.

The book recently received a great review in the Fort McMurray Connect News

What other lessons can dogs, or animals in general help children learn?

No comments:

Post a Comment