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To a child, an animal isn’t put into these distinct categories, fluffy the cat, and George the hamster are animals too. Is George in peril of losing an ear, because the local market running out of organic kale fed unicorns some Sunday afternoon.
In our home, we have rescue ducks, chickens, and a cat named fluffy, who spent too long in the alley’s of NYC that her name is anything but a reflection of her appearance. So how do you do it? How do you explain to a child, that people eat their friends, the beautiful creatures they adore, read about, and are the first sounds we teach them.
It’s not easy. It’s especially not easy when they are toddlers, and when little Kevin has a birthday party, with a cake bigger than your mortgage payment, trying to explain that eggs and dairy are in that cake, and we’re going to have this dry thrown together cupcake mom brought instead. In Vegan Pregnancy and Parenting, (facebook.com/groups/veganpregnancyandparenting) the question comes up a lot, and it’s always helpful to have a guide of how to navigate it.
No, you don’t have to sit them down to watch an episode of ‘Earthlings’ and endure fifteen years of therapy bills. Tell them, that some people do not see animals the way we do, that for a really long time, people ate animals the same way that lions eat the zebras, but now we have supermarkets and don’t have to hurt our friends. Instead, we get to be friends with them, and eat our favorite vegetable dish instead. Explain what an egg is, or make it fun. ‘oh my goodness, they eat something that comes out of a chicken's butt! Gross’ Help your child connect with it, they won’t want something gross either. If it’s a code red scenario, use broccoli. Why do they always hate broccoli? Either way, at little Kevin’s party, I said the cake had broccoli in it. Everyone paused long enough to realize there was an alternative.
We are fortunate that we have space for rescue chickens and ducks, so they feed them every day, and talk to them. If you don’t, find the local sanctuaries, bring the kids there and meet the animals, get to know their names, even show them the goat who has the same name as them! Connect on a level, that as they get older, they realize that a beef burger isn’t something in a package. It had a name, a personality, and a life. This is a gradual learning experience, don’t introduce them to Betsy the cow on Sunday, and explain the beef burger was Betsy’s cousin on Monday.
Explaining veganism to a four year old is a lot different than explaining it to a ten year old. If I told my toddler the whole truth about the world, he wouldn’t be the same kid in the morning. Be gentle, we don’t gain anything by exposing them to the harsh realities of life straight away. The same way we have the parental controls on youtube, have the same on your words. Some kids are sensitive, some aren’t. Yet, the one thing they all have in common, is that they are kids, and don’t need to know the world completely at a young age.
It takes a village, and sometimes that village comes in the form of Amazon and youtube. Utilize today’s world. There are some great books that can articulate it better than we can, and that’s okay, it makes our job easier.
Find a vegan sanctuary, there are more than you think, and see what classes they have for kids. Even just being around like minded parents and getting ideas from them, seeing the kids interact, and the subtle conversations they have, may help that connection to the truth more than just telling them.
There may be family members in your life that still consume animals, and while we wish they didn’t, everyone comes to learn the truth at their own pace. The last thing you want, is your child confused and frightened that their loved ones are doing something so abhorrent, that they mentally cannot deal with it. So always keep in the back of your mind, how your words will affect your child’s outlook on life.
Janet Kearney is the founder of a popular Facebook group for vegan parents (facebook.com/groups/veganpregnancyandparenting) where poop and inlaws are hot topics.
Janet Kearney is the founder of a popular Facebook group for vegan parents.
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