February is a month dedicated to love. There’s a lot to celebrate about Valentine’s Day when kids are little (and even when they get bigger). It’s the perfect time to express ourselves to our children, talk about loving and caring each other and ourselves. Kids feel a natural affection for animals, so that may become part of the discussion, as well. If you don’t already have a pet and your child is asking for one, how do you know when the time is right? At what age are children old enough to accept the responsibility of a pet? And how do you decide what kind of pet to welcome into your home?
All great questions and, of course, no easy answers. Let’s take a look at some issues to think about before taking the leap into the world of pets.
Timing. When to buy or adopt a pet all depends on your family and the type of pet you choose. There’s no perfect or idea age for a child to help care for a pet. However, if your child is just learning to potty train or just starting a new year at school, it might be best to let one major life change pass before bringing a pet home. Talk to your child about the responsibility of having a pet. Visit homes of friends who have pets and let your child see what’s involved. Read books to your child about owning a pet. One great book is The New Puppy by Anne Civardi.
Type. No two pets are alike. Researching breeds of dogs and the habits and upkeep of any type of animal is very important. Reptiles can make great pets (they stay contained and are fairly low maintenance) but children need to be taught about good handwashing habits, as most reptiles carry and transmit salmonella, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. If you’re adopting a dog or cat from a local shelter, be sure to observe the animal closely and spend some time learning about its behavior from shelter employees. Not all dogs and cats found at shelters previously come from homes with children, so there may be some adjustment time needed for the animal to warm up to kids. Still not sure? Try goldfish; a great starter pet.
Respect. Once your new pet is in the home, make sure you talk to your child about respecting animals and their responsibility to help them. Feeding, bathing, walking and playing are all part of pet ownership and your child can help with these tasks. Make sure your child is aware of your pet’s schedule. Encourage them to keep a chart, accessible to them and easy to read, that shows when the pet was fed, fresh water was given, etc. Show them that they are a part of the family’s role to help your pet have a loving and nurturing home.
Pets can be an excellent way to teach kids responsibility. Of course, Mom and Dad will be the primary caregivers, no matter how much kids help, so make sure your schedule and family dynamic work for having a pet!