My kids are currently two and negative a few weeks, so in full transparency I personally have yet to have this conversation. But because we recognize that it’s a big deal, we’re already trying to figure out how we’re going to approach the topic when the time comes… which really could be any day now. In doing so, I’ve been perusing insight from those who have gone before us on the vegan parenting expedition. Below is a compilation of the best advice I’ve gathered so far.
Know your audience and make it age appropriate.
It probably goes without saying that you should refrain from sitting your six year old down to sit through Earthlings and then try to have an adult conversation about what he just saw. When exactly your child is old enough to start understanding your message (though simple at first) is going to be best left up to you to judge, but I imagine it’s somewhere around three or four. Once she starts recognizing that she eats different foods than the other kids in her daycare, she may start asking questions. Or, if she isn’t around other kids while eating much, you may need to be the one to initiate the dialogue. You can start by having simple conversations about how animals are your friends, and that you treat all animals with respect whether they’re a dog, a fish, or a cow. Start educating your kids about how nutritious plants are and discussing how you use them at meals (better yet, get them involved in meal prep!). And remember that it’s important not to demonize others for eating meat (after all, veganism is about compassion). You can talk to your kids about how families choose to eat different things and have different relationships with animals, and that no one way is necessarily better than the other – just different, like the cars we drive, the makeup of our family, or the cultural traditions we practice. Raise vegan all kids as compassionate, open-minded humans and give them a chance to experience the world, instead of ingraining judgment into their young brains before they can even comprehend it.
Some helpful resources to start talking with younger kids include:
This is Why We Don’t Eat Animals by Ruby Roth
V is for Vegan: The ABCs of Being Kind by Ruby Roth
Vegan is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action by Ruby Roth
We All Love: A Book for Compassionate Little Vegans by Julie Hausen
Veggie Vero and the Sandwich Imposter: World’s First Vegan Superhero for Kids (Adventures of Veggie Vero) by Veronica Green
Steven the Vegan by Dan Bodenstein
A Cow’s Life and other PETA Kids’ Comics
Help them to connect, but don’t force it.
Don’t make it weird, make it normal. Practice what you’re preaching, inside and outside of the home, and lead by example. Involve your kids in meal planning, choosing recipes, grocery shopping and creating family meals (let them get messy!). Let them decide on new fruits, vegetables or grains to try and talk about their likes and dislikes. Take family outings to the local farm animal sanctuary. Wear your vegan lifestyle proudly, engage your whole family in it, and help your kids to feel informed and empowered. They should be able to answer questions from their peers confidently, and you need to be there to provide the knowledge. If this is a totally new switch for your family and they don’t jump on the bandwagon right away, don’t make a big deal out of it — because depending on how old they are, you may risk turning them off from the idea completely despite your best intentions.
Some helpful resources for engaging kids/teens:
Be honest, approachable, and resourceful.
The last thing most of us want to do is start having conversations with our kids about serious topics that we just have to backtrack and alter later on. Keeping in mind the whole age appropriateness thing, it’s important to also share the truth and be okay with whatever questions may come from it. Would you rather your child finds out about animal cruelty from kids at school who might tease him, or from you at home where he feels safe? Straight-to-the-point websites like Animal Clock, offering education and real-time statistics of animal slaughter numbers in the U.S., can be really eye-opening for teens and older kids who are mature enough to absorb this kind of information appropriately. Again, don’t talk to your kids about the 9 billion chickens and 30 million cattle killed every year for food before they are able to cope with this information; but when they are old enough to discuss animal welfare, environmental stewardship, or food-related global social justice issues, share it, and talk about it. Be available to answer any questions they have, and be prepared to handle emotionally-charged reactions.
Some other great resources for truth, advocacy and outreach:
Mercy for Animals – non-profit working to educate consumers and expose cruel farmed animal practices through undercover investigations and legal advocacy
The Humane League – non-profit working on corporate campaigns and educational outreach to raise awareness about farmed animal cruelty
Factory Farming Awareness Coalition – uses grassroots education to spread the world that every meal eaten can be an opportunity for activism
PETA – the largest animal rights organization in the world
Vegan Outreach – non-profit working to end animal cruelty and educate about animal sentience
Your Daily Vegan – website dedicated to vegan education, covering health, animals, and the environment
So there you have it, the best advice I’ve come across to apply when approaching the vegan conversation with kids. Mostly common sensical, and like any other important conversation, it’s about deciding what works best for your unique family dynamic and what fits with the ages and stages your kids are in. I’ll let you know how it goes in our house. 😉