Teaching Kids Reverence and Respect for All Living Things

04/30/2015 04:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015
Deborah Pendell via Getty Images

Another way to look at mindfulness is by developing a habit of reverence and respect for all things on this earth. My friend, Robyn, who used to babysit my daughters when they were little, is raising her children vegan. What I notice about her children, ages one and five, is how kind they are to everyone they meet. They are compassionate, loving children. At their home, they prepare and eat beautiful, colorful vegetables, fruits and grains for their meals. These children understand that they treat animals on this earth with reverence. I admire this quality so much about Robyn. She lives in Brooklyn and I am so happy for her that she has a community of people with her supporting a vegan lifestyle. In this home, these children are mindful around food. This carries forth in their day to their friends and family. If they care about animals, then they care about kids in the park. Later on, that same compassion will be extended to teachers, co-workers, et cetera.

2015-04-30-1430406158-8660873-huffpoimage.jpg©Kathy Walsh

Teaching children about being compassionate to animals is a very important part of mindful parenting. In my home, our dog was a huge part of the family. I recently took a children's yoga teacher training course and remembered vividly doing yoga with my kids while my golden retriever, Jazz sat on my mat with me. That brought a huge smile to my face, as I recalled how good Jazz was at "Downward Dog." Sharing yoga and meditation was an important part of their upbringing. Showing them how to treat a dog with respect was even more important. These dog memories are as much part of their upbringing as anything else. I remember sleigh riding with the kids with Jazz trying to take their hats off. I remember playing card games and board games while Jazz eyed the cards and the plastic pieces wanting so much to eat them. Many of our decks of cards had doggy-teeth marks in them. We took Jazz on long walks in the woods quite often. While he ran around, my daughters Kara and Kayle would pick up leaves, rocks, twigs and flowers to bring home and make collages and nature tables. All the while, they learn respect and reverence for all living things. We gave Jazz lots and lots of hugs and always told him we loved him.

Recently, while cleaning out a storage unit, I found many books that Kayle had written about Jazz. She was about 10 years old and they were really fun adventure, detective novels starring, of course, Jazz. I did not even remember that she wrote them. I also chose to include my girls in the process when my dogs passed on. This was a great opportunity to show them how living beings die and their spirit leaves the body. When our golden retriever, Casey, died my girls were just 5 and 7 years old and they came with me to the vet's office to say goodbye. Yes, it was sad, but not being there with them would have been more sad.

Being mindful does not mean being happy all the time. It means being "present." Watching a beloved animal pass on only helps children appreciate each day even more. You don't have to be vegan to show compassion and love to animals. I did not raise my children vegan, but we never attended a circus or SeaWorld event and they knew why. All animals provide an opportunity to experience and teach a mindful practice filled with love and compassion, reverence and respect for all living things.