If you are interested in veganism or have become vegan, or you and your kids have seen something about animal cruelty and want to understand and discuss together the ethics behind a cruelty-free lifestyle, this post is for you. Older teenagers and adults have the freedom and access to expose and educate themselves to the meat, fur and dairy trades, as well as other industries that exploit and hurt animals. So many of us are simply shocked into being vegan through having our eyes opened to haunting and often graphic behind-the-scenes footage of these trades. But how do we raise animal cruelty for young children without scaring and overwhelming them? Although it is important for us never to turn a blind eye to animal abuse or any social injustices, when it comes to sitting down and talking it through with little ones, a gentle approach is often best for young ears, eyes and hearts.
Veganism is simply living as cruelty-free as you can, being kind and respectful towards others and being aware of who our choices effect. Isn’t that how most of us want to raise our children anyway?
When I went vegan, my daughter was five years old. There was no planning; I just stopped consuming animal products after watching a YouTube clip from a dairy farm that popped up in my feed. The change in me was immediate and I didn’t discuss it with anyone, I didn’t even realise I was becoming vegan, just that I could not buy those “foods” anymore. It was a week or so later when my daughter started asking questions about new plant-based milks and cheeses in the fridge that I realised I needed to sit down and talk to her about the new changes I was making. I didn’t want to scare her, nor did I want to put her under any pressure or create any issues between us. Her father was still eating meat and dairy as normal at that time and was quite irritated with me being vegan (thankfully this didn’t last too long!); still, I didn’t want to cause a divide between her and her father either or feel that she had to pick a side. I searched online and found some child-friendly clips from a channel called Bite Size Vegan. I watched the clips first, and once I knew they were safe and age-appropriate, I showed them to Ruby. I started off with the one about dairy and by the end of it she understood what the dairy industry does to mother cows and their babies, and she said at the end she didn’t want to drink their milk or be the reason they are separated. The penny dropped for her too, just like that.
Bridge the gap between living and loving beings and their packaged bodies in the shops
Like me, she had never before questioned drinking or buying cow’s milk, it was something we did like everyone else, completely unaware of the lives of the cows who produce it or the calves who it is naturally for. Finding age-appropriate vlogs and reading child-friendly books (links at the base of this post) that calmly and kindly explain what our food choices means for the animals is paramount; it lets children process information that is usually hidden away from them and brushed under the carpet thanks to clever meat and dairy advertising – Happy Meal, or a Laughing Cow cheese triangle anyone? It’s coming from another adult too, so there isn’t that pressure for your kids to agree or disagree with you personally. Vegan parents can get hassle for “forcing” their views on children. The fact is most kids (myself included) were simply never shown the full picture or given a chance to make up our own minds. I was “forced” to eat meat and dairy and never question it, just as my parents did when they were children. I wish I had known better before the ripe old age of 36!
I wouldn’t buy her a pack of cigarettes any more than I would buy her a bacon roll – both cause cancer, both damage the environment and both kill animals (cigarettes are tested on animals)
Once children understand that farm animals love, play, feel fear and sadness, and have friendships and family – that mother pigs, chickens, sheep and cows care and want to protect their babies just as much as we human mothers do, and that we have a choice whether to harm them or not through our food choices, veganism make sense to kids. Only you as their parent can judge what level of detail they should know, and at what stages this changes with their age and maturity – as with all aspects of parenting, there are no set rules. I recommend you visit rescued animals if you are able to or alternatively watch clips from sanctuaries online – this very short clip (click here) of a rescued pig and her piglets is so heart-warming! I’ll add some other links at the base of this post.
Watch your children spend time with farm animals, not just pets, and learn to value them as individuals not products. Answer the child’s questions honestly and sensitively. Bridge the gap between living and loving beings and their packaged bodies in the shops. If you have animals at home or at friends’ houses, explain that farmed animals have the same feelings dogs do. As we wouldn’t harm a cat, why is it okay for farmed animals to be treated any differently? Buy foods that imitate their favourites and reassure them they can still have treats – vegan cupcakes are, after all, the absolute easiest thing to make. Fry’s Family Food does the best chicken-style nuggets and Linda McCartney does very tasty sausage rolls – you may find lots of food they like is already vegan, such as spaghetti with tomato sauce, chips, veggie soups or beans on toast. For UK shoppers, this link is a great resource for searching for vegan (and accidentally vegan foods) myvegansupermarket.co.uk
Remember to have fun being vegan with your little ones – it’s a great adventure and so much better when you are in it together!
Be patient with relatives and friends who are new to the idea of veganism, people are often just not yet educated on how beneficial a whole food plant-based diet is for any age, and it can come across as them being critical, unkind and judgemental. People also can see you going cruelty-free as a spotlight on their choices; that too can cause discomfort that can be expressed unpleasingly. It’s worth knowing that The British Dietetic Association confirms “well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages”. It can feel tiresome sometimes to have to explain that what you are doing is not dangerous or you haven’t joined a weird cult, but until it becomes more mainstream, patience and kindness are key to responding to any negativity. There is a wealth of information out there if anyone needs help understanding, a great resource is nutritionfacts.org Another thing to consider is that you are the parent and it’s up to you to make what you feel are the best decision for your kids. All parents do this in all aspects of their kids’ lives and food shopping is no different. I wouldn’t buy her a pack of cigarettes any more than I would buy her a bacon roll – both cause cancer, both damage the environment and both kill animals (cigarettes are tested on animals). People often ask us if it’s hard to not eat meat; I point to our dog and say it’s as easy to not eat bacon or chicken as it is not to eat her – they are not food!
Finally, don’t be afraid to question how you are doing, and if you slip up don’t beat yourself up about it – just keep going and remember how well you are doing in the long run. Ask more experienced vegan parents for advice – there are plenty of friendly ones out there – avoid and rise above rude, ignorant and negative reactions (from both sides of the fence) and, if you need to, consult a dietician if you can access one for any specific health concerns or allergy queries. Note that GPs in the UK have very little nutritional training but can refer you to a dietician if you have any real concerns. I have mine and Ruby’s bloods done once a year just to make sure we are okay and provide reassurance for anyone that needs it. Don’t forget to use a good supplement for vitamins B12 and D – the NHS recommends that everyone in the UK should be taking vitamin D supplements, not just vegans. We use the Vegan Society’s VEG 1 tablets, which cover the basics, and lastly and most importantly, remember to have fun being vegan with your little ones – it’s a great adventure and so much better when you are in it together!
Books – we have an ever-growing list of kids vegan and eco books post here, from birth to pre teen.
Sanctuaries to visit in the UK – check for open days or regular visiting hours each week. Here are a few UK-based vegan-run animal sanctuaries: Friends, The Retreat, Dean Trust, Brook, Hillside, The Farm and Hugletts. For vegan sanctuaries outside the UK, please leave a comment and link if you are or know of any vegan-run animal sanctuaries.
Vegan festivals – search Facebook for vegan festivals near you. It’s an excellent chance to meet other vegan families, professionals, sample plant-based food and eat as much vegan cake as you can! The V Show is my favourite, and if you book in advance it’s free.
Educational You Tube clips – check out Bite Size Vegans clips for children.
Fun kid-safe clips of rescue animals –
Vegan Kids Magazine – a fantastic resource for kids. You can buy the download version (back issues always available) or a hard copy – https://www.vegankidsmagazine.com
Social media – search and join vegan parent Facebook groups local to you or your country of residence such as Vegan UK Families. Follow family-friendly vegan Instagram accounts such as ours – it is reassuring to see so many other parents raising vegan kids, and it makes you feel a little more supported in your vegan adventures! Try @littlevbigv @veganpregnancyandparenting @vegankidsmagazine and search hashtags such as #vegankids #veganmum (or #veganmom) #vegandad #veganfamilies, so you can build up a network, exchange tips and questions and see how day-to-day vegan life is for people across the globe!
Kids parties – One thing new vegan parents may worry about is kids’ parties. We have a post dedicated to this here.