How to Keep Your Kids Veg (Even When You're Not There)August 29, 2013
It’s back-to-school season and I know what that means for many of you veg parents! You’re simultaneously smiling and dreading the coming birthday parties, classroom holiday celebrations—any social gatherings where your veg kids must inevitably mingle with the “normal” food everyone else is eating.
To help your kids stay committed to veg life, even when you’re not by their sides, we can take a cue from how children, in general, succeed or fail with various endeavors.
New education theory and the best teachers have been proving that long-term success in the classroom—and in life—depends not wholly on information absorption and IQ, but more on the building of character strengths—passion, curiosity, perseverance, self-control, and resilience, etc. Gaining these qualities helps kids succeed in all areas of life and are not innate, but can be nurtured (or not) throughout childhood.
I say this very honestly: for my now 8-year-old stepdaughter, declining non-vegan food at parties and school has never been a problem—I've witnessed her do it even when she doesn't know we're watching. We don't ever need to enforce veganism—in our lives it just is. And you can get there, too.
I've codified some of the ways we've achieved this over the years. The following 5 tips foster the skills and strengths that will help keep your kids committed to veg life—so you can stop worrying and replace enforcement with education!
1. Discuss What’s at Stake
Kids have to know why they should care and what’s at stake when people don’t. Chronic disease, animals, pollution, and fair global food distribution are all topics for discussion. Share what you yourself discover about food and animals as you learn. I wrote these books to help you find the words, gently and without inducing fear. Remember, kids can’t make choices if they don’t know there are any!
2. Foster Positive Group Identity
A sense of belonging is crucial—i.e. “We’re different and that’s great!” Create or join a veg meet-up group, visit farm sanctuaries or rescue centers. Art has always been a life-affirmative resource for me. I’ve made these prints and T's to help create an affirmative atmosphere that reinforces your veg values. Many schools known for their successful kids adorn their walls and school T-shirts with affirmative words, images, and quotes that serve as a constant flowing undercurrent of the school’s culture. Raised in an environment where specific values are celebrated, an individual is more likely to support instead of detract from group efforts—even once they’re on their own.
3. Encourage Problem-Solving
Involve your kids in the problem-solving process so they get a feel of their own agency and ability to triumph over obstacles. For example, say: “There’s a birthday party in the classroom on Friday. There will probably be a lot of non-vegan food. What could we do to make you feel good and included?” Once you get your little one’s mind going, offer other solutions they might not have thought of—bringing vegan options to share, going out for vegan ice cream after school, etc.
4. Exercise Interest Muscles
The more we help children explore and deeply understand their natural interests—be it animals, rocks and crystals, trees, puzzles, or math—the more effective their love becomes in building character strengths that will last them a lifetime. Love is a great teacher—it drives us to cultivate, persevere, and protect the things we treasure. If your child’s love for animals leads her to learn about animals on a deep level, that love will help inform her decisions throughout life. Routinely expose your kids to varied activities that foster their passions. Be creative! If your toddler loves building blocks, use that interest to serve a greater purpose—he might love the spatial task of arranging healthy snacks on a plate!
5. Encourage Effort
Acknowledge your child’s veg trials and “errors” and focuse on congratulate their efforts—specifically and authentically. Rather than the vague “Good job!”, try “I’m really proud that you tried that hummus dip, you’re showing a lot of drive and that's important in life.” Or, “I know it can be hard to be the only vegan kid in your class, and those milk-chocolate cupcakes can be tempting, but I think you’re very brave and courageous when you stick up for animals.” Focusing on effort sets an expectation of conscientiousness rather than task-mastering. This will encourage long-term skills for success and better relays the values and motives behind our choices.
Do you already practice some of these tips? What do you do to encourage your kids' veg life? Leave a comment below to share with others!