Why I took my toddler to a protest

On Friday I took my 3 and a half year old toddler to a Slaughterhouse vigil. I know many people feel that “forcing” a child to attend a protest is big no-no; after all, how can a 3 year old have a well formed political view that they may wish to voice? Well, let me tell you when I first starting forcing my opinion on my child.

DSC01199He was maybe 2, and he had just started pulling on our cat’s tail for fun. He was learning how to interact with the world, and the cat’s tail provided a means to get a very obvious, and very predictable, response to his actions. As a responsible parent, I immediately put a stop to this behaviour.

“No, you are not allowed to pull the cat’s tail.” You and I both know why you shouldn’t pull a cat’s tail, but try explain that to a 2 year old. Because it is mean. Because the cat doesn’t like it. Because how would you like it if the cat did this to you? This is when I first started teaching my child that animals had feelings, that they felt pain, that they could not like something. And importantly, that we need to respect them (and hence, not be mean to them).

Not only is it important to me that my child shares this viewpoint, but I also expect him to champion it. When he sees another kid (or adult for that matter) being mean to, or harming, an animal, I would hope that he would actively speak up against that action. Unfortunately, in slaughterhouses, they tend to hit animals really hard in the head – in fact, they like to hit them so hard, harder than they’re physically capable of doing so themselves, that they have to use a tool to do so – so hard that the animal dies. I’ve already outlined my forced opinion of “don’t pull the cat’s tail, it’s mean”, so I’m sure you understand why I would also be opposed to this other sort of behaviour.

The nice thing about kids is that they’re natural born activists. They have an idea of what is right and what is wrong, and they have a very clear sense of justice. It is also a very simple, straight forward, sense. They don’t understand that actions can be quite complex things, there is contexts in which the meaning of an action may change, that there may be debated social issues at play, that it simply isn’t a black and white issue. In kid-world, it is black and white. If something is wrong, do not do it.

This extends well beyond animal rights. I want my son to speak up against all acts of injustice. As he grows up and goes through the school system, he will no doubt see an amount of bullying. And when he sees it, I want him to challenge it. Not only do I want my child to not be a bully himself, but I want him to actively defend others against bullies. As he travels through this world, and encounters all sorts of bigots. I want him to have a strong voice, and the courage and ability to say no. Say no to bullies, say no to racism, say no to sexism, say no to all harmful words and actions.

A final case in point. I have recently had to teach my son not to swear. Not only did I create a no swearing rule in my house, but I also created a rule empowering him to take action against swearing. If he hears someone else swear in my home, he has the authority to put them in time out for their behaviour. The reason I took my son to a slaughterhouse vigil was not to entrench in him the idea that killing animals is bad (like every other 3 year old, he already knows that), but to teach him to stand up against injustice – whatever form that injustice may take – and to stand up for what you believe in.

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