5 Lessons on Parenting from the Animal Kingdom

By Jessie Klassen

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

Nature has lessons for those who listen, and for those who observe with sincerity and open hearts.

Growing up on a farm, I was afforded the opportunity of having a close relationship with animals. Over my years of living my life this way, there have been many lessons that I have been taught. And as a mother myself, I have paid special attention to the animal mothers, and the way that they parent their babies.

Here are 5 parenting lessons that I have learned from the Animal Kingdom.

Lesson #1: “Model the behaviour you would like to see in your child”

Animal mothers do not send mixed messages.  This is why an animal mother will never expect any different behaviour from her child that she herself hasn’t displayed.

I have had many years of experience with cattle, and they have taught me more about Life than anything else.  During each calving season, it is such a delight to watch the mothers with their new babies.  I am always fascinated how quickly the calves will begin to mimic their mothers.  Before long, the calves are joining in with the herd, munching on hay, or licking and grooming one another.

Our most calm, easy-going mothers have the calm, easy-going calves.  Our wilder, more protective mothers have the wildest calves that will beller at you if you get too close.

Animals teach by example.  They are authentic at all times because they understand that their young are watching them closely.  They know this is how they learn the skills that they will need to survive.

Mother cows teach their calves how to graze and join in with the herd and mother bears gently play with their cubs so that they will learn the necessary skills to defend themselves one day.

We have many white-tail deer where I live, and they are a beautiful creature to observe.  Graceful and elegant in their movements, a mother doe will tentatively step out into an open hay field, but never far from the safety of the woods.  When she knows it is safe, she summons her calf.  As she and her calf graze, she continues to lift her head, sniff the air and observe her surroundings.  Her calf does the same.  She flickers her tail, and so does her calf.

But there is more than just modelling survival skills.  Animal mothers are exceptionally affectionate, and they teach how to both give and receive love.  Cows will stand and lick their babies, a peaceful look in their eyes, and proudly send them off with “cow licks” in their hair.  It is always easy to tell the really well-cared for calves in the herd.

I often ask myself, “am I setting a clear example for my children of what it means to be a loving, thoughtful person?”

“Am I teaching them all the practical skills I have learned that will help Life flow more smoothly for them?”

On the farm, my siblings and I grew up alongside my parents while they worked.  We played in the barn while they milked the cows, or in the garden while my mother was weeding, or riding along with them checking and tending to the cattle.  As we got older, we began to help.  I can’t recall a clear distinction between when play ended and work began.  There was always play, and there was always work.  They blended very naturally and childhood was enjoyable, while adulthood was no stark “eye-opener”.

We understood that work had to be done, and we knew how to have fun while and after the work was done as well.

As I grew up, I realized that there was much I had learned from modelling my parents that I had just taken for granted as common knowledge, when it really wasn’t common at all.

And of course, this modelling of parents’ behaviour can go both ways.

I guess this is why the phrases, “Oh no, I’m turning into my parents!” or “I sound just like my mother!” are so common.

Lesson #2: “Discipline is Necessary”

I have yet to see an animal mother that does not, at one time or another, reprimand or discipline her young in some way.

I have seen mother cats growl at their kittens, mother dogs nip at their pups, and cows give their calves a bunt with their head when they are taking their playing a little too far and getting too rowdy.  And sometimes you can see that they are just tired and need to have a rest.

They never discipline with enough force to wound or injure their babies, but enough that the babies know that whatever they were just doing needs to stop.

It seems that many parents seem confused as to how to discipline their children.  Spank or no spanking?  Time-outs?  Take away toys?

I don’t think that these questions ever cross a cows mind, or keep a mother wolf lying awake at night.  I am also sure that you would never hear a  bear exclaim in an exasperated plea, “these kids are driving me crazy!”

I was taught that discipline comes from love.  A parent disciplines because they care enough about the well-being of their child.  I was also taught that until you are old enough to have integrated your lessons, discipline happens on a daily basis, and some children need more than others.  Basically, discipline is work.  I was also taught that as children, we look for discipline, or perhaps a better term, boundaries.

We do not yet understand the world, and so, like the animals, we look to our parents and trust that they will let us know when there is danger or if there is something we shouldn’t be doing.

My grandpa always said,

“A child looks to you for discipline, and they are happier when they have it, because this is how they know they are loved. A child without discipline is lost.”

I’m certainly not saying that we need to behave like army sargeants, but simply be consistent with letting our children know what is and isn’t acceptable.

My mother never wasted words.  We were raised in such a way that she only needed to give us a certain “look” and we knew exactly what it meant.  I feel that this is natural.  You don’t hear animals yelling and hollering at their young.  Actions speak louder than words.

It is when we are old enough to understand language that we can have longer conversations and explanations.

On a farm, there are plenty of dangers for kids to get into.  Large animals, machinery, and in our case, a pond that was within a stone’s throw from our house.

When I was a little girl, I knew to never go near this pond without my parents with me.  I knew this not because I understood that I could drown, or that it was “dangerous”, I understood because my mother said I would get a spanking if I did.

As my mother has said, “water is unforgiving, and there could be absolutely no grey areas.”

And this little threat kept me away from it until I was old enough to understand the dangers.

And I have to say, not once did my siblings or I ever disobey her.  When I was older, I spent countless days rafting on this pond, and they are some of my fondest memories.

If I think back to my childhood, I can only remember actually being spanked maybe once or twice, and it was more the thought of it that was upsetting than the spank itself.  But I knew that it wasn’t an idle threat, as it would happen if I pushed it far enough.

Gregg B

Because of discipline, my siblings and I were able to enjoy many freedoms, such as running in the pasture, following the winding cow trails,  playing in the barn, and spending time with the horses, cows, pigs,  and chickens.  We were able to enjoy these freedoms without always being watched because our parents knew that they could trust us.

I often feel that this is missing in many children today.  They are so closely coddled and protected that they can’t be trusted, or be given any responsibility.

I realize that an upbringing on the farm is much different than in the city.  Cities have traffic and other people that need to be watched out for, but I still feel that we are not giving our children enough credit of what they are capable of.

Lesson #3: “Be playful”

Not only do children learn by watching us closely, they learn by simply engaging in the joyful act of play.

Within days of their birth, calves will already be running and jumping around, chasing one another in a game of tag, or else shaking their heads at one another and butting them together.

My parents have often said while we were enjoying watching the calves play, “you can see that it is our natural state to be joyous and playful.”

Pigs are also a hoot to watch, as they will grunt and run and turn around on a dime, often so quickly that they will send themselves spinning on their sides.

It is cute to see that it is not only the young that are playing.  Often the cows will join in with the calves, usually on an exceptionally beautiful day in the spring when the sun is gaining strength.

I have a dear friend who has spent her life working with small children, either in day cares, nursery schools, or those with special needs.  Often times, parents will come to her and say, “but they’re just playing, what have they learned?”  And she will reply, “this is how we learn.”

Animals have so much to teach us about not taking life so seriously, and I try to follow their lead as often as I can, especially with my own children.

We were born to be happy, to laugh, and to see the humour in our days.

One day this fall I was busy cleaning up our yard after a 2 day wind storm had sent many branches crashing from our trees.  For hours I walked back and forth, carrying limbs, and piling them for a bonfire.

My 2 dogs, Sidda and Chubs, were lying in the warm sun and relaxing as I did this.  At one point, Sidda, my loyal friend of 12 years now, sat up and looked at me intently.  And for a moment I could hear what she was feeling.  Basically, she was thinking how silly I looked and wondering when I would be finished so we could go for a walk.

It was then that I realized that my back was tired and I had had enough of picking up branches.  I looked back at her and said, “you’re right.  Lets go.”  And off for an evening walk we went.

Lesson #4: “You are the primary influence”

When a cow is going to give birth, she always chooses a secluded place where she will be alone.  After her calf is born, she licks him clean and promptly eats her afterbirth.  After baby has had a chance to nurse,  she will lead them away from this site to a different location.  She then hides them in a safe place, often for several days, before bringing them to join the herd.  She will tuck them in the tall grass where they can’t be seen, and often will go back and forth between them and the rest of the herd.  She does not share them.  Now this is because when a calf is newborn, they have no scent, so they are actually safer by themselves.  A cow knows that a predator would not find them, and so she keeps a careful watch from a distance.

When we have tried to look for these newborn calves, often just to make sure that everything is okay, they can be almost impossible to find.  And the mothers offer no clues either, often looking in the other direction from where their calf is as to fool you.

Animals teach that in the beginning of our lives, our parents are our primary influence, and after a suitable time, after their influence and bond has been made, they are introduced to the rest of the world.

In today’s world, a child can go to nursery school as soon as they are potty trained.  Not only do we have kindergarten, but we also have pre-kindergarten. Daycare centers are overflowing with babies and toddlers.

So in these circumstances, who is raising our children?

I feel for the parents, ache for them actually, who take their child to daycare before they head off to work, pick them up at the end of the day, then try to make supper and enjoy some quality time before bed.  The sad thing is, the child has spent all day with other people, and has played with many children, and is likely very tired and will fall asleep very early.

If we think about it, this is a very unnatural way to be raising our families.

We pay other people to raise our children so that we can work.  What kind of world have we created where mothers can’t afford to stay at home and raise their own children?

As I have said, I ache for these parents.  I understand that we need to pay bills and keep a roof over our family’s heads.  But I can’t help but feel that we have just come to accept that this is the way it should be.

I realize that many mothers have careers that they enjoy and are a gift to our world, but what about the children in these environments?

Have we been living like this long enough to know that there won’t be long-term problems in the future?

I am not disrespecting those who work in daycare either. I know that they are kind, caring people who truly love children, but they are not their parents.

We are born knowing exactly what we need to teach and give to our children.  This knowledge is within us.  The lessons that we have for our own children are more valuable than anything that they will learn anywhere else.

I find myself torn when I hear parents say of their toddlers, “oh, they can already count to 100 and write their name because of daycare.  I could never do that when I was a kid.”

Does any of this really matter?  Kids all seem to balance out and catch up with one another in the end.

I sometimes feel tempted to ask these parents, “but what unique gift have you been teaching them?”

As we are on a farm, I like to share the miracle of a cow’s birth with my kids, or how to tell when an animal is sick, or how to pick peas from the garden without hurting the plants, or how to know what depth to plant a seed.

We are concerned with our kids knowing how to count and tell shapes, but we have forgotten how to teach them to feel the land and grow their own food.

We feel that we are preparing them for the “real world”, but do we not need to eat, or live on this Earth responsibly, or have a balanced relationship with the animals?

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to choose a career where I could have my children with me.  And days that I couldn’t, there were grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends.  I can count on one hand the number of times that I had to hire someone to watch my children.  For these reasons, I feel very blessed, as my children have always been surrounded by those who love them most.  They know nothing else.

I find it sad that many parents don’t feel that they have anything special to teach their children, when simply loving and playing and laughing with them without the worry of what they are “learning” is teaching them how to be happy and joyous.  Perhaps it is your perspective about Life that is unique or a gift, or the kind way that you treat others.

I think that it is important to remember that no matter the circumstances, your child is yours for a reason, and you being their parent is no accident.

And if you find yourself in the situation of not being with your child as often as you would like to, know that every moment you have with them is special, and that with your intention, you can share your gifts.

Lesson #5: “We would kill and die for our young”

This may sound a little extreme, but this is something that hit me the moment I held my first born in my arms.  I simply knew that if there was ever a threat to this child, I was capable of murder, and that I would give my own life without question.

This is the profound, limitless, unconditional love of a parent.  And it just happens.  It does not have to be learned, there is no course, it is a natural occurrence.

I have worked with many new mothers in calving season, and it is always a time to be wary.  Some mothers trust us and do not see us as a threat.  And there are some who will get a look in their eye and you know you need to run.

It is this natural defense of our children that really puts their importance to the world into perspective.

If it is natural for us to kill or lay our own lives on the line without question, then we see how important their lives are here.  How important that they are able to grow up healthy and into their full potential,  and offer their gift to the rest of the world.

Parents have a way of seeing the best in their children.  The potential that lies within.  The light.  There is only unconditional love.

This is how Mother Earth, the Universe, Life itself, sees us as well.

Nature loves us and the Earth wants to provide for us.  She sees our potential, what truly lives within.

The other day I was feeling upset, and naturally, I wanted to feel comforted.  As always, I turned to Sidda, who has been mothering me for the last 12 years (although I was 20 when she was a pup, I feel that I have “grown up” with her.)

She takes her role very seriously and is constantly looking out for me.  As I laid next to her and stroked her fur and told her my problems, she was quiet for a while before I felt her reply,

“What good is it that you wish to bring into the world?  What gift can you share with others?”

I instantly felt lighter and my mood brightened.  Sidda always knows exactly what I need to hear.

It may sound strange, but I know that my cows have chosen me as their caregiver.  I am a part of their spiritual evolution as much as they are a part of mine.  We are learning and growing together.

I honour, respect, and love them.  I care for them to the best of my ability, and try to provide a beautiful, happy, clean environment for them to live.

They have taught me how to be a better mother and a more compassionate person.

I am not sure where our journey will take us, but I appreciate their lessons, as well as the lessons of all animal parents.

I hope that you have found this helpful. I would love to hear from you. I can be reached via my website www.jessieklassen.com

Love and warmest blessings,


The Sapling: An Inspiring Story From the Trees

The new book by Jessie Klassen

Learn how to communicate with Nature while enjoying fun activities and energy exercises that will encourage spiritual growth, self-confidence, and awareness in you and your child while developing a close relationship with Nature.

In “The Sapling”, author Jessie Klassen offers an inspiring story from the Trees for the children of Earth, with vivid, full colour Nature illustrations that will appeal to younger children and provide valuable Life lessons that will grow with your child — just like a Tree! Full colour demonstrations easily display dozens of activities and exercises for you and your child to enjoy.

The Sapling” is the first book in Jessie’s Nature Child Children’s Book Series, committed to helping children grow into who they truly are meant to be through a close relationship with Nature. You can get your copy here.

A portion of proceeds are donated to the TreeSisters and the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Recommended articles by Jessie Klassen:

About the author: 

Jessie Klassen

Jessie Klassen is a writer, farmer, and the mother of 3 sensitive children. She is also a Reiki Master and empath herself, who is committed to raising her children in an accepting and spiritually-connected environment, grounded in Nature. Through her work, Jessie is inspired to help others connect with the magic of Nature to rediscover the magic of their own lives.

Jessie released her first children’s book, “The Sapling” in 2017. It is the story of a little sapling who with the help of a wise old tree, overcomes her fears of growing big and becomes the tree she is meant to be!

You can connect with Jessie at jessieklassen.com, follow her on Facebook, or contact Jessie via email here.

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