Your child might be both frightened and curious about circus animals.

How to Talk to Kids About Circus Animals

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

“Mommy, look at the animals. There are tigers and lions and elephants…” she lists every animal she sees in the circus entry march. These animals differ from those at the zoo because the circus animals perform and interact with people. You want her to understand the difference between pets and zoo or circus animals so she doesn’t try circus stunts. While your neighbor’s dog may look large enough to be a small pony, you don’t want her to attempt riding the dog or treat the neighbor’s cat like the big circus tigers.

1 Explain the difference between the circus animals and pets. You might say, “Circus animals are trained animals that are taught by trainers to do special tricks. Some of the animals, such as lions, tigers, bears, elephants and camels might have started out as wild animals, and can still harm the trainer if the trainer isn’t very careful. Animals like horses, goats and rabbits are more accustomed to people and work, but might still be harmful to others if the trainer doesn’t respect the animal. Pets are used to people, but might hurt someone who isn’t the pet’s owner."

2 Marvel at the talents of the circus animals. Say, “Those tricks are really cool. I wonder how long it took for the trainer to teach the animal that trick. Do you think Flip could do the same kinds of tricks those dogs are doing? I think it must take a very special person to teach an animal how to do those tricks.” Continue to contrast the circus animal stunts with the behavior of wild and zoo animals and pets. Stress the training required by both trainer and animal to accomplish the stunts.

3 Point out that circus animals are often caged between performances to protect the animals and people. Show her the cages the circus animals live in -- pictures will work if the circus doesn’t allow the public to view the cages. Explain, “I don’t think it would be a safe for some of those animals to get loose and find their way to a neighborhood. The animal would be frightened because he wouldn’t know where he was and there wouldn’t be anyone to feed and take care of him. If he got too hungry, he might eat things he shouldn’t or hurt someone if that person got too close or scared him.”

4 Remind your child, “Your pet and other animals in our neighborhood don’t do circus tricks and might be hurt if you tried to treat an animal like a circus animal.

5 Read books about circus animals if your child shows an interest in the animals. You might use picture books such as “The Twelve Circus Rings” by Seymour Chwast, “Emeline at the Circus” by Marjorie Priceman or Dr. Seuss’ “If I Ran the Circus.” Invite your child to share her ideas about circus animals.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

Photo Credits

  • Jerry Yulsman/Photodisc/Getty Images