My 16 month old daughter just witnessed her grandmother chasing and proceeding to bash a mouse to death. My daughter was within 4 feet of the death site. She was pretty shocked and asked to pacify after. She didn't cry but she was a little upset. I told her that "mice are very dirty". She has helped me find and kill flies and mosquitoes around the house before.

She is very fond of animals. I want her to be compassionate to animals but how do I make sure she isn't in an episode of Hoarders later on because she can't find it in her heart to remove mice from her home? This is along the lines of a previous question asked: How Do I Teach My Toddler Not To Abuse Animals but how do you make the distinction between compassion and cleanliness? How do you teach the difference between pets and vermin?

Edit: We don't have pets. Our relatives don't have pets either. She has been to homes and even spent the night at homes that have pets though.

Edit#2: We were watching Hickory Dickory Dock on YouTube and when the mouse ran down the clock, she was bashing it with the remote... :/

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    I don't think you can teach a 16 month old that concept easily. Mice are vermin. And pets. Best option may be to get Grandma a cat. She can love the cat, and then the mice problem becomes more of a 'mother nature' issue. ;)
    – DA01
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 17:48
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    Your premise that she would be overrun with vermin if she wouldn't kill them is unrealistic for most locations. Live traps are certainly an option. That said, you probably can't do better than just explaining that they're dirty. It's factually accurate and is simple enough to be understood. Commented Aug 18, 2012 at 8:43

3 Answers 3


I think that 16 months is a rather young age to understand such a concept, but starting an early understanding of animals in general is a good idea. I just asked my 3 year old daughter if she knew the difference between a "wild mouse" and a "pet mouse" by asking her which she'd rather have in the house. She said a "pet mouse" but she didn't know what would happen if we had a "wild mouse" in the house.

A good place to start would probably be when you introduce your daughter to other animals, or when you see wild animals on the street. It's important for children to know that strange animals can be dangerous--including a strange mouse that lives in your house!--and not to go near them without a parent or other adult. I've taught my daughter that waving hello to animals outside is okay, but not going near them.

  • +1 excellent approach! Luckily we have always had cats, so the "here's how nature works" has always been quite straightforwards...
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 8:42
  • Hmm we go around looking for the street cats together. She is good about being wary of loose animals. I should reinforce better behavior about wild animals as you say.
    – Rhea
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 5:41
  • I thought the "wild" and "pet" difference was important. It does need to be taught that domesticated animals are a part of our society, so there are social rules with how you deal with them, just like with people. You can teach the child to "otherize" the world of animals, but teaching that not to torture wild animals obviously inconsistent because the grandma just demonstrated that behavior. At young ages, this is just a matter of hiding or glossing over the fact that adults are, in fact, hypocrites. Commented Aug 24, 2012 at 13:40

Does she get weeds? If she helps you weed the garden maybe saying vermin are like weeds might help her make sense. After all, in another context those animals may not be vermin...?

  • That is an interesting approach. She does help us harvest our garden. Will try that thanks!
    – Rhea
    Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 6:56

I always told my little one, all animals have their place in the grander ecology of Earth, the place for spiders, mice, rats, etc. is NOT in MY HOUSE because they are wild and carry dirt and diseases and because they belong out in the wild.

I also tried to use catch and re-release methods for most things and do preventative things like ant and spider guard borders around the house rather than catch, kill or poison methods after they are already in (mostly because mouse traps and poisons will often hurt small children too so it was safer to do things this way anyway - although when those have been necessary, I just kept them on the down-low and way out of her reach until she was a little older).

For safety reasons, it makes a lot of sense to differentiate between pets and wild animals in general. I explained to Alice, wild animals will not want to be petted and played with simply because it scares them. When animals are scared, they can do dangerous and hurtful things like bite and scratch when cornered so it is generally best to watch all animals we don't know from a distance. Even some dogs and cats are wild or shy and unless we already know the animal it can be hard to tell from a distance. If it is wild we should stay further away anyway and even if it is a strange dog or cat, there are special ways to approach them anyway.

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