1. Don’t hold your kids in a dangerous position so they can get a better look. You may think you have a tight grip on your kiddo, but it’s better safe than sorry. (A parent did this at a zoo & their child fell into a Cheetah exhibit.) For goodness sake, DON’T let your kids sit on the zoo fences or walls.
2. Teach your children not to tease the animals. You shouldn’t trust that a piece of thick glass will always hold. There have been instances of cracked glass at zoos in the past. (Video of guerrilla breaking the glass.) No matter the danger of cracked glass, teaching your child to be respectful of animals is just the right parenting decision.
3. Read and follow the zoo signs. If a sign says not to feed an animal, don’t. If a sign tells you to stay back, do so. It is your responsibility to follow the rules so that your kids are safe.
4. If your child mentions wanting to go in the enclosure, take it seriously. Children are often mesmerized by the animals, but also by the enclosures themselves. They often look like fun swimming pools are exciting places to play. When your child tells you they want to go in let that sound a caution alarm for you.
5. Create a learning opportunity about wild animals before you visit. Your kids have stuffed animals at home. They watch cartoons and nature shows. Those things are fine, but they may ultimately teach kids that all animals are friendly, snugly and harmless. Spending some time teaching them about wild animals prior to your trip to the zoo is important.
6. Keep your kids close & accounted for at all times. While you may find it appalling to use a child harness or a backpack with a harness, I personally would rather see a child safely attached to Mom or Dad than to see them on the news at the bottom of an enclosure. Hand holding is great, but kids have a knack for wrangling away. If your child is too big for a harness, you must be extra vigilant. Have a talk prior to your visit about your rules and make sure they know if they aren’t followed you’ll have to leave.
7. Stop with the photos. If you’re distracted because you’re taking pictures or selfies or videos, you’re not being a responsible parent. Focus on making memories, not on documenting your outing for Facebook.
8. Focus on the educational benefit of a zoo outing. Talk to your kids about the animals. Read them the signs. Take every opportunity to impart a love of wild animals so that when they grow up, they’ll carry that love with them.
9. Tell kids you are visitors in the animals’ home. This is where animals live and kids need to know they are to be respectful visitors. You wouldn’t want a lion tapping on your bedroom window and yelling at you, would you?
10. Visit the zoo’s website before your trip. There is always lots of helpful information about rules and regulations as well as info about the animals your child will get to see. As a parent you’ll also want to know where the first aid office is, where the bathrooms are, and whether you’re allowed to bring water or snacks inside the zoo.
No matter your feelings about whether animals should be in zoos at all, you can be a great teacher and a great example for your kids about loving, respecting and protecting wild animals. Just be safe while you’re doing it!