Do do your kids love the Berenstain Bears? Little Bear? Brother Bear? I could probably do this whole post using only bears as an example.
The sentence example for “anthropomorphism” from Merriam-Webster is the very reason this post is being created.(1)
According to Gabriella Airenti, historical interpretations “distinguish children’s manifestations of this attitude, which are considered “natural,” from adults’ occurrences, which are considered exceptional and must be explained.”(2)
It was always my understanding that kids’ shows and books would use animals because they are cute and interesting and it helps children learn about animals. I forget that anthropomorphizing, this learned behavior, helps us grow into adults who successfully (for the most part) and meaningfully empathize and interact with others.
Have you ever bumped into a chair and said “sorry”? Reflex action and subconscious anthropomorphism. Who are we saying sorry to? We know the chair doesn’t have feelings, but at least we are using our manners!
Here is an example of when anthropomorphism (and my young, first-time parenting skills) didn’t get it quite right: One time I took my son for a walk and I wasn’t holding his hand; a lady came around the corner with her dog and my poor sweet boy started to run up to it and I had to grab him really fast to stop him. The owner said something about how he shouldn’t run up to dogs like that – and she was absolutely right. I didn’t think it was okay in the first place for him to do it, I just didn’t realize that he would do it. This dog looked friendly for no other reason than that it did not look aggressive. If I was a little kid – heck, even now – I’d be excited to pet a dog! Of course this lesson reinforced that I should hold his hand in those kinds of situations.
Another example: A smiling dog isn’t always happy to see you. It could just be hot and panting. It is at that point in time we need to pay attention to the whole picture. What other body language is the dog showing? Tail wagging? Ear position? (3)
It isn’t pictured here but we have a great book called “Hey, Dog” about a little boy who discovers a stray, hungry dog hiding in the bushes by his home. Overtime, he tries to get the dog to warm up to him with food, water, and a gentle disposition. There’s a point in the story where he tells his mom that he thinks the previous owner hurt the dog and she tells him to be careful because if he had been hurt before he might be scared and hurt back. This book does a great job showing kids how to interact with a dog who is just a dog – can’t talk, doesn’t have exaggerated features to make it look cuter. It shows how to be cautious and aware without being just afraid. We live in an area where there are a lot of stray dogs, and almost everyone I know has a dog or has had a dog in their lifetime. Lots of opportunities for exposure!
Since he’s so young, my son will still watch and read things with anthropomorphized animals and it seems there’s a lot more awareness of how to give animals space and that we should teach our kids those lessons at an early age, so I’m happy to incorporate both. (Hey, Dog – Author: Tony Johnston. Illustrator: Jonathan Nelson.)
Children’s literature is really becoming so diverse. I found a book of environmentally-friendly mother goose rhymes, we have books about plants, and books with beautiful pictures. I love Suzie Mason’s illustrations in “I’ve Loved You Since Forever”; it’s one of my favorites for bedtime. We even have a book about an anthropomorphised acorn that goes through the life cycle of oak trees.
Do your kids like learning about animals? My son is starting to get more interested in the educational pieces so we watch short, informative YouTube videos (especially about bugs). Certainly this is what we can take as adults: be the responsible adult but be as curious as a child.
Have a happy & healthy Wednesday, friends! 💜
1. Accessed on 21 July 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anthropomorphism
2. Airenti, G. Frontiers in Psychology. The Development of Anthropomorphism in Interaction: Intersubjectivity, Imagination, and Theory of Mind. 2018 Nov 5. Accessed on 21 July 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6231421/#__ffn_sectitle
3. Are Smiling Dogs Really Smiling? Accessed on 21 July 2020. https://www.dogtagart.com/blog/are-smiling-dogs-really-smiling