How I explained Veganism to my children.
Firstly before I begin, let's all remember that everyone parents differently. What works for me and my kids may not work for you and yours, and that's fine. There is no room in the world for judgemental parents who think they know better than the next. I have no time for that, nor should you. You can choose to agree or disagree, but either way I thought I'd share some insight as to how I approached the subject of "why mummy doesn't eat Creme Eggs anymore" with my children.
I have found that when people find out you're vegan, some questions appear recurrently- one of them being "what about your children, how do you explain it to them?" (It comes along with the age-old "but where do you get your protein?" question: people are suddenly incredibly concerned about your/your childrens' dietary requirements if you don't eat meat).
For context, my kids are 10 months, 6 years and 9 years old. Very different ages with very different perceptions of the world. Obviously my baby girl can't see past the Twirliwoos and naptimes, let alone engage in a conversation that doesn't include stringing a load of phonics together; so for argument's sake we can leave her out. My sons, however, are a different story.
My 6 year old has always been a huge animal lover, ever since he was old enough to roll around on the floor with his aunty's pet rabbit. When I stopped eating meat, he was 4 years old and asked me why. I explained to him (very, very gently) that all meat comes from animals- chicken nuggets, burgers, sausages, bacon, ham, pepperoni pizza; it all comes from animals. I haven't, and will not, go into the gory details about how they are slaughtered because I think kids need to be kept in the dark about that, especially at 4. At 4 years old they are all about the Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy life, and I will never agree with showing an innocent mind the brutality and reality of "humane slaughter". It's a controversial topic, but each parent is entitled to their own way of broaching the subject. Mine was simply to say "animals at the farm go to heaven so that we can eat them and I don't think it's very nice to eat animals, so I don't want to anymore."
Maybe I'm just lucky, but ever since he has refused to eat meat, and proudly tells his friends he doesn't because animals are his friends too. I mean, if it doesn't work for you, maybe make them watch Peppa Pig (which will be on repeat if you have a toddler anyway) and it might strike a chord in their own time, who knows.
My 9 year old was a contrast entirely. Despite me explaining how he has misunderstood this, he is still completely adamant that all farm animals die of old age so we eat them because otherwise they'd be left lying around everywhere.
I don't even know where he gets this stuff from.
All kids are different, each perceive things in different ways; but my son is unbelievably headstrong. He is wiser than 80% of adults I know, which is why I sometimes cannot fathom how he doesn't understand me when I say animals don't die of old age. But I've since realised; he does understand, he just doesn't want to fully comprehend it. He likes meat, his favourite food was always pepperoni pizza, and at his age he is old enough to find things out for himself. He isn't fully influenced by me anymore, and I have to accept that. We have an agreement where (obviously) he will never eat meat in our house, but he is free to make his own choices outside of the home. I may not agree or want him to, but he is his own person and I won't ever take his freewill away from him. I truly believe if you give a child this leeway, they'll take more consideration over their own decisions.
Both kids understand not eating meat, and with dairy I explained it easily enough:
"All mummy's make milk for their babies; when you two were babies I made milk for you. Mummy cows make milk for their babies too, but if we take it for our cereal there won't be any left for their babies. So we don't take any for ourselves, it's for baby cows."
I would just find ways to broach it sensitively. Here are some methods that may help:
YouTube is a fantastic resource for engaging children when used in the right way. Perhaps showing little kids YouTube video footage of slaughter houses is a step too far. I don't believe that scarring them for life is the way forward, but I'm not out to judge you if that's your tactic. Although I haven't used them myself, I've heard there are videos now that do sensitively approach the topic for children, so have a look around and see if there is anything you find suitable. Another good idea is to show your kids other vegan families on YouTube, any parent knows how easily kids are influenced and if a middle aged bloke vlogging about Fortnite can keep their attention for more than ten minutes... well, I'm pretty sure you'll find success in introducing them to other healthy kids eating an abundance of vegan foods.
Spend some time with your children at a farm, animal sanctuary or zoo. I'm aware that many vegan parents don't agree with visiting such places, but if spending time around animals helps them to resonate with animals as sentient beings, the penny may drop faster. Introducing you children to animals doesn't make you a "bad vegan", not in my book anyway.
Make it a fun learning journey. Take your kids shopping and ask them to pick lots of fruits and veggies by colour. Make them brightly-coloured packed lunches, use fun cutlery/plates/bowls/ spend lots of time in the kitchen baking dairy-free cookies. Making healthy, cruelty-free food accessible and fun will ensure they're 1000% likelier to eat it.
Go outside! The more time you spend outdoors, the likelier it is your children will come to appreciate the world we live in. Veganism is so important for the environment, and the fresh air and beautiful scenery is a fun way to get your kids to engage with the world around them. Take them for walks in the countryside, go to the beach, help with a beach clean-up, spot some birds, looks for insects with a magnifying glass, create an eye-spy sheet, teach them about different plants/trees, see how many wild animals you can find.
The last thing you want to do is turn a child against others who don't share the same view as them. Veganism isn't the "norm" in society as yet, which means they will likely be in the minority at school and nursery. Painting a bad picture of anyone who isn't vegan won't do anyone any good. Explain that everyone makes their own choices, we can only make them for ourselves, and you have made yours to help animals and look after the planet. Make them feel special, not secluded.
You know what's best for you and your family. When the time comes, you'll instinctively know exactly how much (or little) your children can handle. I know that if I railroad my boys into making a decision that suits me, it'll more than likely come back to bite me on the backside in the future.
Being vegan is not about being perfect, it's about doing as much as you can to reduce harm to animals and the planet. Be the example for your children, and let them come round in their own time. The way the movement is heading currently, they may well be part of a majority plant-based generation anyway, which is exciting.
Have you had a similar, or different conversation with your children? Let me know what you think.