How Do We Teach Our Children About Wildlife and Animal Safety

This rubber snake was a bad idea at Christmas that I would discourage other parents from buying for their children.

Last year, I used some poor judgment when shopping for stocking stuffers for our son.  Christmas morning he was not amused when he pulled a rubber snake out of his stocking.   Quickly, he asked me to get rid of it.  He didn't think it was funny and wanted to know why Santa would bring him that toy.  His cheerful face had turned to a serious inquisition that was almost sad.  My mother even scolded me for having gotten him that rubber snake.  I'm wondering the same thing now.

Several months later I told my uncle this story, and he let me know that a rubber snake was a terrible idea.  Snakes are not toys and to be taken lightly.  Another uncle, his own brother had been bitten twice at different times in his childhood by water moccasins.  If we want our children to respect wildlife, we cannot give them rubber versions like toys in their stockings.  My uncle certainly didn't think it was funny as he recounted how his brother nearly died as they tried to find a doctor in the days before cars and doctors were plentiful in the Missisissipi Delta.  My uncles and father had faced venomous snakes and knew their dangers and how to respect wildlife from an early age.  Even after those events, my father and his brothers still hunted and fished out in the wild throughout the remainder of their lives without fear.

Our son quickly approaches strangers with dogs saying that his momma wants to pet their dog (really meaning he wants to pet their dog).  But should we really approach every creature we see with wild abandon?  Teaching a child to enjoy the outdoors and respect the wild without being afraid is a delicate balance.

Because our son walks our small dog at the campground, he also assumes other people have friendly pets.  This isn't the case.  And, we are constantly working on this concept.

Have Specific Boundaries 

When hiking our son is to always directed to stay between my husband and me.  One of us is first and one last with him in between.  This means that one of us is always scouting the trail and on the lookout for wildlife such as snakes or other animals.  He got ahead of us once and nearly ran up on a snake.  While it was non-poisonous, we usually don't know this until it is too late.

Boundaries are meant to teach children discipline.  They need to follow directions and do what they are asked to do.  As they get older, you can teach them how to scout and monitor the trails and places where they go in the wild.  And boundaries aren't always about wildlife, this could be about unstable ground and places where we could fall. 

Our son is obsessed with this hole in a tree on our walks on campus.  He wants to stick his face to this to see what is in it.  He is convinced it is a lizard, but it could be bees or other animals.  We should never disturb an animal home.

Respect Animal Habitats

We have been having an ongoing discussion about holes in trees that could be animal homes.  These homes could include anything from where a bird builds a nest to where bees build a hive.  Holes in a tree a dark and don't reveal what is inside, therefore caution should be taken. 

Children should never rush up to an area where an animal could be living to peek inside.  Animal instinct is to protect their home.  Bees will sting to protect their home, or a bird will attack you.  The way to remain safe in the wild is to respect animal homes.  And remember that animals burrow in the ground as well. 

Respect Animals

Just because an animal is furry, does not mean it is a tamed pet.  Raccoons, feral cats, and bobcats are all examples of animals that children may see out in the wild.  These are not animals that want to be cuddled.  Children shouldn't try to approach them or lure them with food. 

The same is true for other people's pets.  Just because someone has a tamed dog or cat, we need to ensure that our children know that all animals are not available for us to run up to them to be loved and petted.  We should always ask the owner and allow them to respectfully decline if they do not want us to pet them.  Some tamed animals are not friendly and will bite us.

Be Calm and Confident

My friend Christy will tell you that I can be anything to be calm in the presence of a snake!  I have literally lost my mind on a tubing trip when we thought we saw a snake once.  But, in all seriousness, when you are in nature, be calm and confident in your surroundings.  Keep an eye out for wildlife when on the trail.  When you are calm, you can act quickly and effectively.   Model this behavior for your children every time your our outdoors, on hikes and camping.  Talk to your children often and use teaching moments every time that you have them.  

Teach your children about wildlife and how to respond.  I was taught from a young age how to respect the wild, and it has served me well.  I am trying to instill these same values into our young son.  He is rather impulsive.  I hope that he will not rush into a beehive before he learns his lesson.

How have you talked to your children about wildlife at home?  Before you take your children hiking or to the campground have specific rules and boundaries about wild animals and other peoples animals.  Just a few basic rules will get you started.

Until next time...

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