Getting Your Children Their First Pet
by Hilary Smith
Families love pets
It’s inevitable. If you have children, the question is coming. When can we get a pet? Although we all love the idea of a cute cuddly pet of some kind, actually getting one for your family isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Pets are a tremendous amount of work and responsibility, not to mention a financial obligation.
When, Why, and How
When discussing pets, your family should consider several points
to help you choose the right one. First and foremost, it should be determined there has to be a balance between the children’s ability to help care for the animal and the reality of the bulk of responsibility still falling on the parents (time and energy to help train the animal, finances for vet care, food, etc.). There are several questions you need to ask yourself:
• What is your family’s lifestyle?
• Do you travel a lot, or all you always on the go?
• What is your housing situation?
• Do you have a yard?
• If you don’t own your home, does your rental agreement allow pets? • If so, what kind, and is there an additional fee?
• Has your family had any prior experience with pets, or do you have a family history of allergies or asthma?
• Finally, what kind of animal fits your family best?
These are all legitimate questions you need to ask before you can consider specifically which pet is a perfect fit for your family.
Once these have been answered, the fun part can begin.
If you've already decided to get a pet
You’ve decided your kids are ready for a pet, but now you have to determine which animal will be the best pet for your family. Safety is a big consideration here. You always want to match your pet to your children’s ages, maturity, and ability to handle responsibility. For example, if you have very young children, a smaller, more gentle breed of dog
would be a much better choice than a more aggressive, larger one. If you have children who are a little unsure about dogs, a cat or rabbit may be a better choice. Or, if you have family members with sensitivities to pet dander, you may want to consider something along the lines of a gecko, a bird, fish, or even a hamster or gerbil that would keep it’s dander confined to it’s cage.
Regardless of which pet you choose, be sure to teach your children how to handle their pets
and model appropriate behavior for them. Although some breeds are labeled as more aggressive, all pets are animals and capable of biting or scratching if frightened or provoked. Children are full of energy and naturally curious, so they need reminders to be calm and gentle around their pets, particularly when they are being introduced to the home. Show them how to approach an animal with an open hand and to allow the animal to smell them first. Tell them where to pet, and until the animal is well adjusted to the family, allow them to pet, but not pick up, the pet. Teach them about animal body language, such as ear position, vocalizations the animal may make, and signs the animal may want some time to itself. You may want to consider a “kid free” zone in the house where the animal can go to relax and have a break from active children and busy hands. It is suggested children and pets are always supervised until the animal and its behaviors are well known and predictable, and hence determined reliable if alone with the child.
Once you have decided what kind of pet to get and discussed how to be responsible pet owners, you’re ready to bring your newest addition home! Whether you rescue a puppy from the pound, get a kitten from a neighbor, or win a fish from the school carnival, your pet is bound to become a well loved member of the family quickly. Pets are an excellent way to teach responsibility, keep your kids moving and active, and provide unconditional love and companionship for the whole family!