“I want a pet!”
Sooner or later, as all parents are likely to hear this from their kids. Is this just a passing phase or does it indicate a deeper desire? How can you tell the difference and know how to react? Before making a decision, it is important to understand your child’s true feelings and motivations.
An animal can be a loyal companion, but one that requires special attention. It can become a hassle in certain circumstances, such as when you want to go on holiday. A pet is a big responsibility and it is important to work out whether your child is ready for that responsibility. Here’s how you can determine whether your child is ready for a pet.
How old is your child?
Children start taking an interest in animals at a very early age. At as young as 18 months, your child may start to interact with dogs or cats. However, even normally placid pets can be dangerous for young children, and they should not be left alone with animals without proper supervision. Children this young are also, obviously, incapable of looking after a pet on their own.
Young children, around primary school age, may not be able to handle looking after a pet that requires a lot of attention such as a dog, but other animal can be more appropriate. Younger children could responsibly enjoy a lower-maintenance pet like a fish, a turtle, a hamster, guinea pig or a mouse. These animals are easier to care of, and this can actually be a good way to teach your child about responsibility while keeping the risk of failure low. Not to mention that maintenance for these kinds of pets is much more affordable!
Once you child is around 10 years old, most are old enough to take on the responsibility of having a more high-maintenance pet like a dog or a cat. Of course, every child is different, so ask yourself if they will be dedicated enough to take a dog for daily walks, manage vet visits, and make sure they are fed and watered. Again, this not only offers many benefits to you child, but is a great way to teach them responsibility by looking after another living being.
Having said that, you can allow a younger child to have a dog or cat, as long as you are willing to take on some (or most!) of the responsibility. However, you’ll also need to consider factors such as whether you have a large enough garden for this kind of pet, as well as the budget needed to look after them – larger breeds of dogs, in particular, can be expensive!
Allergies are becoming increasingly common in children. Allergies are sometimes linked to foods such as milk, egg, fish or peanut and can be dangerous and potentially fatal. In other cases, substances such as pollen, mites and animal hair can irritate the respiratory tract and cause asthma, or irritate the skin, leading to eczema or other skin conditions. Allergies also often develop during childhood.
This doesn’t mean that your child will necessarily develop an allergy if you get a pet. However, it is worthwhile testing this if they have not spent that much time around animals to date. For example, before you decide to get a dog, have your kids spend some time with your neighbour and family member’s dog and watch for any signs or symptoms of an allergy. If you’re not sure, consult with your family GP: they may also be able to recommend hypoallergenic breeds such as the labradoodle.
Level of Care
As mentioned, some pets are easier to look after than others. This even varies between different breeds. For example, certain breeds of dogs require more walking than others, and long-haired breeds of cats shed more and need more grooming. Before you get a pet, make sure your child is prepared to take responsibility for looking after them. Sit down with them and go over the specifics of what they will need to commit to in order to get the pet they long for.
Don’t forget that adopting a pet can help empower your child. Your little one will love their pet, and you will teach them that love is often associated with duties and responsibilities. By asking your child to take care of certain tasks relating to the needs of their pet, such as changing their water, feeding him with quality pet food and regularly playing with them. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re handing the care completely over to your child: you need to keep an eye on things to make sure the pet is adequately cared for and guide your child in being responsible.
Not all animals are appropriate for all children and it is important to take their age and personality into account. However, if you take care to make sure your child is ready for a pet, you can not only bring them much joy, but also teach them important life lessons about responsibility. This is an important part of raising fearless kids!