By Karen A. Soukiasian
We recently received a rather disturbing photograph on our Facebook page. It was of two teen males, haughtily posing for a camera, while flipping the bird, as they dangled a lifeless puppy with a rope tightly tied around its neck. No doubt, their parents must be very proud of how they raised their sons.
Granted, before we continue, we are all aware there are some who have serious physical and psychological problems that require more than what this articles suggests. Here, we are dealing with the norm, not the exception.
The “average” mentally and physically healthy child learns by experience and example. With little or no life experience, they have no understanding of empathy and compassion, unless it directly affects them personally. That is why learning by example is so important.
Those who suffer from low self-self esteem, either withdraw, or will do anything, sometimes subtle or sneaky, and sometimes grandiose, even if it is wrong, simply for attention. They may or may not understand there are consequences for their inappropriate behavior, but they don’t care at that time. What they are seeking is status and attention.
As a part of growing up and learning, children frequently mimic what they see and hear. They often test us to see what effect their unfitting behavior will have on us, and if there are consequences.
When you see your child cuddling a cat or dog, you smile and think how sweet? By telling them what they are doing is appropriate, you are reinforcing in a positive way, an appropriate behavior.
But, what is your reaction when you see them being unkind or just plain cruel to an animal?
Do you wonder, where did they see, or why are they inflicting harm, pain, or possibly death to the animal?
Does it occur to you, what they doing to that to helpless animal, they could possibly do to another child?
Do you step in, and correct your child and explain to them, their behavior is inappropriate and why?
Do you explained to them in an age appropriate way, so they will understand that they are hurting their pet? Or do you just ignore it?
Do you automatically assume if your child is bitten or scratched, the cat or dog is to blame?
Does your child see you punish the animal? What is their reaction? Are they empathetic or detached?
In most cases, it’s not the child, but the animal, that regrettably suffers the consequences of the unfortunate interaction. In fact, the animal is doing nothing more, than instinctively reacting to survive that situation.
Are we fair to expect our pets to behave better than our children?
In 1943, Abraham Maslow created a pyramid called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is a five level pyramid of needs. It starts at the base with Physiological. The second level is Safety. The third level is Love/Belonging. The fourth level is Esteem. The apex is Self-Actualization.
At the fourth level, that of Esteem, Maslow held humans have a basic need to be accepted and valued. He also believed there were two forms of esteem; lower, which reflects the need for: attention, respect from others, and status. And, higher, which reflects the need for: self-confidence, strength and competence. An imbalance at the Esteem level is where and how a person senses their self-value, and essentially where bullies are formed.
In early development, it is at this level, where your response to your child’s interactions with animals is most crucial. Here, by teaching by example and correction, to be responsible, respectful and kind to their puppy or kitten, you are also validating your child’s need for attention, respect and status in a healthy, positive manner.
Bottom line: By demonstrating to and instilling in children, compassion, respect, empathy, kindness, sympathy and love; as well as a balanced sense of self-worth, we can possibly prevent future bullying and abuse of children, animals, and even adults.
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