Family Pets: A Series on Character-Building - #2. Learning Unselfishness

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Decades ago, Ayn Rand said, “[Man] must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself . . .with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.”

Since that quote was uttered, our culture has only become more characterized by selfishness. One need only turn on a show or movie or go to the mall to find examples of the self-obsession that characterizes our world today.

In a culture increasingly obsessed with the self, it’s difficult to point our children to models of unselfishness. Yet Western culture rests on ideals of sacrifice on behalf of others. As we work to raise good citizens, unselfishness is a vital trait to instill in our little ones. So how can parents intentionally point children towards models of unselfishness?

One lesson waits at the door every morning when your children wake up! Parents often forget that family pets can provide wonderful platforms for children to learn about unselfishness. Whether your child had to forego a fun activity to walk the dog or whether the family cat needed to be rescued from the rain, lessons in unselfishness are present through family pets every day.

Here are some ways that you can use your child’s interactions with the family pets to teach and reinforce UNSELFISHNESS:

  • DISCUSS: Ask your child or children if they remember a time that they sacrificed something to take care of a family pet. Ask them to describe what the experience taught them.
  • DISCUSS: Have a family discussion about a time a family member acted selfishly when dealing with a family pet. What were the consequences for the pet? What lessons were learned?
  • LEARN: Ask your children if they can remember, from books or movies, a story of a character (real or fictional) who sacrificed something to take care of his or her animal. Ask them to draw or write a re-telling of the story in their own words.
  • ENTER: Take a picture of your child acting unselfishly on behalf of his or her pet . Tag @elt_statement and #everylivingthing and your child and pet could be featured on the Every Living Thing Instagram account!
  • SIGN: Sign the Every Living Thing Statement on behalf of your child and your family will receive a free copy of Finding Danny, the heartwarming tale of one child’s search for his missing pet. Check out the first post in this series for specific steps.

For practical encouragement on building character through your child’s interactions with your family’s pets, stay tuned for the rest of this series!

Image Credit: HSUS

Emily McCord is an independent writer and policy and communications consultant. She is a two-time English major, holding a B.A. from Belhaven University and an M.A. from Indiana University. A former Congressional staffer and teacher, Emily currently lives in Texas with her husband and 1-year-old son. Emily encourages women as they juggle career pursuits, healthy lifestyles, and family life at The Orange Slate. You can follow Emily on Instagram (@emilyamccord) or Twitter (@emilyamccord).