Q:My 4-year-old son teases our dog. I can't understand why he does that and I correct him every time.He doesnít do anything really terrible but itís upsetting to catch him pulling the dogís tail or trying to ride him.Yesterday, I caught him kicking the dog!Iím very upset and worried that my son has a mean streak.How can we teach our son kindness to animals? A.That's a wonderful question.Itís our responsibility as parents to teach kindness and empathy, whether to humans or to animals.Here are some suggestions:
For the dogís and your sonís safety, supervise them together until you are certain the unacceptable behavior has been corrected.
First and foremost, children learn by example. If your son observes the adults in his life being kind to each other and to all living creatures, he will be more likely to exhibit kindness himself. Be absolutely clear that meanness of any kind is not acceptable and ALWAYS correct it. When you catch yourself being unkind, apologize, and comment that such behavior is not okay.
Whenever you observe your child being kind to the dog, praise him.Do this also when he is kind to anyone else, because kindness generalizes. When he is less than kind, tell him you are disappointed in his behaviorónot in him.
When your son is unkind to the dog, have him ďmake restitution."For example, have him gently pet or brush the dog, give the dog a treat, and say, ďIím sorry, I love you.ĒThereís more you can do:Romanticize the relationship between ďa boy and his dog.ĒFrame a photo of your son and his dog together. Read dog stories.Maybe get a "Lassie" movie to watch together. "Air Bud" is a more recent movie showing the difference between the dog's relationship with a mean master and a kind boy master.Make it desirable in your son's mind to earn "his" dog's trust.Earning an animalís trust is a big contributor to self-esteem, and it does generalize to being kind to people.