Last weekend I was lucky enough to speak at my local Anonymous For The Voiceless workshop on 'how to talk to children about veganism' alongside Nottinghamshire Animal Save, YouTube Vegan Activist Jordan Steven, AV organiser RossyDreads, the legendary John Curtin and Vegan rapper and influencer Kyle O'Sullivan! I promised everyone there that I would write the information up and in more detail to use as a reference - so here it is guys!
Talking to children may seem daunting but you will soon find that talking with kids is much easier than talking to adults about veganism. They are so in tune with their authentic compassion and instinctive protective emotion towards animals, that they understand quicker and feel it more than most! Basically they are much less conditioned and therefore, we have less damage to undo. Easy Peasy, lets get them to Grow Up Vegan!
Teeny Tiny (Infants up to 6 years)
At this age most children won't even realise they're eating animals so this realisation will be enough for them. I have experienced this many times. Remember the viral video of the girl crying about suddenly realising she had been eating animals...this is exactly how it could pan out if you shock them too much. So lead with positivity, be extra friendly, have a smile on your face and avoid scary words!
Eye contact is important when talking to anyone but when talking to children of this age eye-line is just as important. You want to physically be on their level, crouch down, kneel, sit, just make sure that your eye-line is around the same height. It keeps little ones more focused and makes it a 'you and them' conversation that they won't drift away from.
Use your hands! Be inclusive with your hand gestures, imagine trying to explain something to someone without any words...take it down a notch and this will be about right. For example: Gesture to yourself when saying 'me' and 'I'
At this age you can keep it very simple! No need for any questions more complicated than - "Do you like animals?"
Ask agreeable questions. Once you have established that they do in fact love animals (I am yet to speak to an infant that has said they don't) you can ask them agreeable questions, for example:
"...because we want animals to be safe don't we?" This explains (without explaining!) that you both feel the same.
For this age you don't need to mention death at all, just simply the fact that 'food' they are eating were animals. Completely avoid using any graphic terminology: death, dead, killed, murdered etc.
Junior (7-9 years)
At this age children don't usually have a problem with authoritative figures, in fact they like to take lead and look up to elders meaning you can really lead the conversation and become a figure to look up to. This is your time to use your inner teacher - just make sure you lead with positivity rather than lecture!
Be open and really friendly. If you think they could be easily distracted you may want to kneel and give them that eye-line contact like the infants.
Using your hand gestures is important at this age, as you're talking imagine telling a story and the gestures that may feel theatrical will come more naturally to you. If you can make something feel like 'story time' then kids at this age are engaged!
Ask simple but emotive questions for this age group. Something that makes them think about an action of their own and leaves them thinking: "Do you want to save animals?" or "Do you eat animals?"
Again you don't want to use 'graphic terminology' but for 6-9 you can explain in more detail. Examples:
Instead of "Animals are killed for food"
Say "The animals life is taken for food"
Instead of "They're dead"
Say "They're not alive anymore"
Its all just about rewording sentences but not losing the meaning. Remember they are not as conditioned, toning down your terminology will have just as big of an impact.
Pre-Teen (10-12 years)
This is a tricky age, some will still lean towards the younger side and others will already be walking and talking like a teenager! You will have to call it and decide what would work best after interacting for a minute or so. To help you quickly figure it out ask a few simple questions like "do you know what being vegan means?" and you should either get a engaging response, with them then waiting for you to lead the conversation again, or a somewhat dismissive response meaning you should interact with them as if they are of a teens age.
Be open and friendly but much more relaxed. No need for all the theatrics now, but make sure you keep eye contact.
Ask emotive triggering and thought provoking questions like you would an adult, but avoid 'harsh words' (dead, kill, murder etc.)
"How does it make you feel knowing you eat animals?"
"If you could stop animal cruelty would you?"
Teen (13-17 years)
Teenagers are the most fun to talk to about this, they don't hold back, they challenge you but they usually quickly accept your answers rather than getting defensive. They may not like authority but they are used to it, so accepting they are sometimes wrong actually comes easier to them than adults.Above all, be relatable! If you can link veganism to relatable things such as, current trending celebrities who are vegan, or the latest makeup range that is vegan, then you will find common ground that will translate to being a someone on the same level rather than someone of authority they want to rebel against.
Friendly but relaxed. You don't want to come across as someone teaching them or telling them what to do so a laid back approach is what you should portray. Take breaks from eye contact because teenagers are at the self-conscious stage of their lives- lets not add to it! Look away when they aren't speaking, take a moment, then engage again.
Questions can be direct, emotive triggering, but should always be open. Open questions mean you will get more than one word answers and the teens won't feel like the conversation is being lead by you alone. For example "What is it about animal suffering that makes it so terrible?"
This will get a back and fourth discussion and help you to ask more questions and explain more reasons for going vegan.
You can be 'graphic' as such. Words like die, dead, kill, slaughtered etc are fine to use when explaining choosing a vegan lifestyle to teens.
Use encouraging and inspiring language. Teenagers are at the place in their lives where 'anything is possible!' and it absolutely is- remind them of that. Make sure you tell them that they can make a difference!
Check out the full talk above and see my other videos on YouTube too! I will be doing a series of 'how to talk to...' videos so subscribe and you won't miss out! Find me on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter and don't forget to subscribe to this website for more articles and exciting news! #GrowUpVegan