Family Pets: A Series on Character-Building - #3. Learning to Care For the Vulnerable

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Matthew 25:40 b: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” - “New Colossus”, engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

A concern for the vulnerable and less fortunate is deeply embedded in the fabric of Judeo-Christian tradition and in the foundation of the American ideal.

In an age where leaders and organizations consistently exemplify a poor use of power and where, even in the world of our children, bullying (both physical and cyber versions) runs rampant, it’s so vital to instill in our children the importance of caring for and protecting those weaker than themselves.

The way we treat others affects our souls. A society that disregards the weak and vulnerable is built over time as individuals become calloused to suffering around them.

Pets can provide such a wonderful opportunity to teach our children how to look out for and care for the interests of those weaker and less capable than ourselves. The seeds of power abuse and of bullying are often laid when children are allowed to be cruel towards family pets or other animals. Rather than turning our heads, we as parents should leverage the interactions of our children with the natural world to train them and encourage them towards behavior that will strengthen their character for the long run.

Here are some ways that you can use your child’s interactions with the family pets to teach and reinforce lessons about CARING FOR THE VULNERABLE:

  • DISCUSS: Ask your child or children if they remember a time when they observed or participated in cruel or bullying behavior towards animals. Ask them questions to help them sort through the consequences of the situation. How did the scene make them feel? What ultimately happened to the animal? How could they have exercised more responsible behavior?
  • LEARN: Help your children connect negative behavior towards animals and the natural world to bullying or cruel behavior towards other people. How might cultivating a sensitivity towards animal treatment help make them more aware of their treatment of their friends or peers?
  • SHARE: Share a story with your children of a situation in the news or from your own life when an adult took advantage of power for their own gain rather than caring for the vulnerable. Try to connect little actions (and failures) of care and kindness to the larger trajectory of choices that disregarded the feelings or needs of others. Encourage your children that they are helping to build and change culture by looking out for the needs of their pets and neighborhood animals.
  • ENTER: Take a picture of your child caring for a vulnerable animal (either a family pet or another animal). Tag @elt_statement and #everylivingthing on Instagram 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’s commitment to caring for those more vulnerable.

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).