As a wee tot, I can still remember my mum whispering “be kind” as my hand stretched out to pet our family cat, Tiny.

Sage words that still guide my hand and heart today, reminding that every being who treads, swims or flies upon this earth wants, needs and responds to kindness. Because although they may look different on the outside, inside we are all the same.

Growing up as I did surrounded by animals in my family home, my heart and more often than not my bed, Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary seemed a natural progression from this.

The wheels were set in motion when a tiny piglet, the eminent Edgar Alan Pig, trotted into my life in 2003 and led me down a path I’d never imagined. Since then, I have dedicated my life to the protection of farmed animals, and our not-for-profit sanctuary is home to anywhere between 400 and 500 rescued residents at any given time.

Bradley Miller once said, “Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.”

This is indeed so true. Children have a natural empathy for animals, and fostering this will only make them more compassionate and caring adults. Kindness really is our greatest muscle, the more we exercise it, the more it will grow and strengthen.

With Be Kind to Animals Week (1-7 October) just around the corner, it’s never been a better time to teach our children the importance of being kind to all animals, regardless of how they look.

Top tips for teaching children to be kind to animals:

  • Provide enrichment to your companion animals. Children often best learn compassion and respect for animals through their own first-hand experiences with them. Encourage your child to enrich your pet’s life through playing games, providing toys or taking them for a walk. It’s important to encourage gentleness, and to pay attention to the animal’s body language to ensure they are comfortable in the situation, for the safety of both your child and the animal.
  • Don’t have a companion animal? If you’re able to provide a loving home to new family member, consider fostering or adopting an animal in need through your local rescue shelter or sanctuary. Or ask a neighbour if your child can share this kindness with their animals!
  • Leave water out for wildlife. And remember to leave sticks in it so that insects can escape too.
  • Pick up litter. Every piece of rubbish removed from our local beaches, parks and waterways helps to reduce our impact on the environment and helps marine life and wildlife. You can register for an organised clean up here.
  • Prepare a kind meal. Eating plant-based has never been easier or more delicious! Check out these lunch box ideas and party food inspiration.
  • Say no to entertainment and tourism that exploits animals. Wildlife tourist attractions can cause lifelong suffering behind the scenes. Find out more here.
  • Make the fun pledge for Be Kind to Animals Week. You’ll get a free Kindness Kit including a fold-out poster, daily tips and recipes in your inbox during the week, and you’ll go in the draw to win a hamper when you pledge here.
  • Get them engaged with educational resources. These free resources for kids include fun animal facts, virtual story times, and a colouring competition to win a Kindness Prize Pack.
  • Show them the power of kindness. Meet some incredible animals whose lives have been transformed by kindness here. Animals such as Leon Trotsky, the adorable and brave piglet who arrived with crippled back legs, but who with the aid of a custom-built wheelchair and lots of love, can now walk again.
  • Be a role model. As beings of great power, this too comes with great responsibility. It is up to us to be the best role models to the next generation of kind humans. Studies have shown that those who witness kind acts are more likely to be kind to others themselves. How inspirational is that!

This sense of “oneness” we have with the world is indeed what will ensure all of our survival on this planet. Animals, as vulnerable beings, are so at our mercy. We can, and our kind has sadly so done, unkind things to animals. Some deliberately, some not so. But all this can change through the simple act of being kind to them, and encouraging our kids to do the same.

Children indeed have a natural sense of awe and fascination with animals and the natural world. In encouraging compassion for all beings – recognising that they all want, need, deserve and respond to kindness – can be the greatest lesson ever taught.

And in this troubled world there has never been a better time to instil kindness in our young. Watching both grow could well be amongst the proudest moments you will ever have.

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A lifelong animal lover, Pam cut her teeth on cat and dog rescue and became a champion equestrian. However, everything changed when a tiny piglet, the eminent Edgar Alan Pig, trotted into her life in 2003 and led her down a path she’d never imagined. She gave up her full-time paying job, hung up her riding boots, and dedicated her life to the protection of farmed animals. With Edgar firmly at its heart, Pam built the sanctuary from the ground up and set in motion outreach programs that would bring farmed animals out of the dark unknown and into public view. Pam is also the proud Australian Ambassador for World Animal Day and was a 2014 Victorian Local Hero Finalist in the Australian of the Year Awards.