Raising a vegan child for almost a decade has taught me a lot about the world. I have navigated through nutritional health debates, gone against societal norms, been faced with accusations from strangers, and firmly stood my ground when it comes to animal rights, the environment and plant-based food choices. Raising a vegan child is an adventure I would take again in a second and one of the best decisions I ever made. I have found that teaching kindness and compassion, leading by example, staying honest with my son and teaching him how to be a voice for the voiceless has been instrumental in our vegan journey.
1. Teach Kindness and Compassion
Now more than ever it is crucial to teach children kindness and compassion. Encouraging kids to be empathetic towards people and animals when they are young will help them grow up into compassionate adults. As a mom, teaching kindness to my son Noah has been my starting point for everything. But quite often it was actually Noah teaching me about kindness from the eyes of a child filled with wonder, especially when it comes to saving little critters. Never underestimate the importance of rescuing a ladybug from a playground slide, a spider that accidentally built a web in your home, or a lost snail looking for a sip of water. Or in the case of six-year-old Marin, an ant named Lucky. Marin has been vegan since birth and her mom, Anouk Bikkers, teaches her daughter about kindness for all species. She tells me that an ant fell into Marin’s bath and after giving the little insect a safe place to recover they set it free after appropriately naming her Lucky. This season Marin has also saved numerous snails that were in the middle of the road on a rainy day and provided them with a hearty meal before sending them off on their journey. They are also watching over a mother robin to ensure her three eggs remain safe and she will be able to raise her babies. Bikkers explains, “I feel that by allowing Marin to follow her natural instincts to be kind to animals and to ask the tough questions like why do my friends and family love their pets but eat chickens, cows and pigs, is helping to raise a kid who has an unfiltered awareness of the world around her. With that, as well as knowing her voice is powerful enough to change hearts and minds, I am seeing a growing passion within her to want to make much needed changes towards a kinder world.”
If you are looking for guidance on raising kind vegan children, PETA’s Humane Education Division, Teach Kind, has online resources, advice and materials to use as a starting point when teaching kids about important topics such as speciesism.
2. Honesty is the Best Policy
When Noah was younger we were at the park for a picnic with another mom and her two kids. The mom gave her kids meat hot dogs and Noah piped up, “Did you know you are eating a cow?” The kids started laughing and said that wasn’t true. The mom was mortified and immediately told her kids to keep eating their lunch and Noah was wrong. I was speechless. As time went by I realized many parents don’t tell their kids that meat comes from animals. Noah was raised vegetarian but when I finally learned the real truth about the dairy and egg industries I explained at an age appropriate level with non-graphic details what dairy cows and chickens go through. Noah was quick to make the connection that milk from a mother cow is meant for her calves, not for humans. This realization and Noah’s determination not to harm others put us on the path to veganism.
Julie O’Neill has raised her son Max, age seven, with vegan values since birth. O’Neill explains, "If we are honest with our children and tell them the truth from the beginning, they will hardly ever choose to eat animals. Feeding children animals without the honesty of how they got there is the highest form of forcing "beliefs" onto others."
3. Do Research on Protein, Iron, Calcium and B12
As parents we all want our kids to be healthy. When you decide to raise your kids vegan and follow a plant-based diet it’s important to research all the vitamins and minerals they need to remain healthy throughout the ages. But be prepared that once you announce your child is vegan you will suddenly be bombarded with health questions that often sound like accusations from others. At least this was my experience almost a decade ago. However, back then it wasn’t as acceptable to raise your kids vegan. But instead of getting annoyed I used these conversations as a starting point to chat about what actually constitutes healthy food. (Hint: It’s not animal products). Having done extensive research I was easily able to chat about healthy proteins we love (tofu, beans, quinoa, nuts, seeds, edamame, lentils, oats, whole grain bread and many veggies); that we get our iron from whole grains, tofu, pumpkin seeds and sea vegetables; we get our calcium from broccoli, sesame seeds, almonds, soybeans and collard greens; and we both take supplements with added B12. Back in those early days I also met with a Kids’ Nutritionist to make sure I didn’t miss anything from a health perspective.
4. Encourage Young Activists
There are many benefits in raising children to be activists and to speak out against injustices around the world. Teaching kids about privilege, prejudice, equity and social justice issues will encourage them to become thoughtful and involved citizens later in life. Teen activist Greta Thunberg has lead millions of children around the world to speak out against climate change and global warming and she is an inspiring role model for kids around the world. Noah has joined me on animal rights protests since he was four. We spoke out against SeaWorld and tried to free Tilikum the killer whale from a life of captivity. Back then Noah was the only child at these events and quickly became known as the “powerhouse” among activists for his ability to give out literally hundreds of leaflets at our anti-fur protests. Noah has made his voice heard not just for animals, but for climate change and human rights too. In the last several years it has been enlightening to see more and more young activists attending rallies and protests around town, including Marin and Max mentioned earlier. It helps to lead by example so put on your favorite Animal Save Movement hoody and start making signs for the next rally, protest or save vigil in your hometown.
5. Boycott School Trips to the Zoo, Aquarium or Circus
Although being vegan often gets confused with following a plant-based diet, if you are living a vegan lifestyle it means you love and respect all creatures and do your absolute best not to participate in activities or events that harm animals in any way. This includes not going to the zoo, aquarium or circus where animals are forced to do tricks and are kept in captivity. Noah did not attend his school trip to the zoo and I suggested that he write an essay on why zoos are wrong to submit to his teacher. There are many zoo alternatives such as visiting a farm sanctuary with rescued animals, a wildlife rehabilitation center, seeing animals in their natural environment or watching live web cameras of wild or rescued animals. Or go for a nature hike in search of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, frogs, turtles or other creatures living nearby. It is more educational for kids to see happy animals running wild and free instead of a miserable drugged out lion or bear sitting sadly in a concrete cage. It’s also never too late to suggest to your child’s school that trips to the zoo be replaced with trips to a sanctuary. Together we can make a difference.
Author: Miriam Porter