I recently came across a young elementary school aged child and his mother walking on a path by a lake. The mother was repeatedly calling her child to join her further up the path however the child appeared not to hear the mother’s requests and continued to step on ants on the path. As the mother’s voice tone became increasingly frustrated she retreated to gain her child’s attention. When approached by the mother who asked about the delay, the child simply replied, “I have to kill them all” and continued stepping on ants. I was hopeful when I saw the mother approaching she would take this opportunity to teach her child something about nature and how we all live on this planet together. Instead the mother said okay and watched as her child continued to kill bugs. After another minute passed the child tired of the activity and they both quietly walked on down the path.
I must say this scene stunned and saddened me. This little moment probably would not be thought about by either child or mother again and here it remained on my mind for the rest of my walk. This was just a moment but a significant one in which the mother could have shared a thought about gentleness, kindness, respect, and the care for creatures of all sizes. Instead, it became a missed opportunity. I remember telling my own children very simply that we are gentle with nature.
Parents teaching their children well about nature and their place in this world is a necessary part of parenting as it relates to so many other skills, some of which include sharing, taking the perspective of others, and thinking about consequences of actions. Talking about your beliefs in these moments lays the foundation for future more significant moments such as how to treat family pets and even other human beings. We know it is essential for children to understand other points of view as they learn about their place in a family, school, community and the world. By paying attention to these little moments parents will find they will have fewer big moments to manage. No parent wants to learn their child took something that did not belong to them or their child bullied a peer. Teaching a foundation of respect, kindness and gentleness starting with an ant will pay dividends down the line.