Children and their pets can be an adorable combination, but too many parents don’t understand that pets are not toys for children. When you decide to bring a dog or other animal into your family, it is important to remember that the pet is a living creature and not a play thing.
Here are a few things you should consider before giving your child a pet
Unlike a toy that can be put up on a shelf and forgotten, dogs require care. They must be fed and given clean water daily. They need to be trained so they can get along with other animals and people both in your home and in public. They need regular exercise. Other pets require similar care, including cage cleaning, bathing, and more.
When children receive a pet as a play thing, most of these responsibilities are not taken into consideration. If they are, the child usually promises to do them without fully realizing the commitment required. Feeding and watering the dog before and after school, taking him on walks daily, cleaning up his accidents and other aspects of caring for a dog are just too much for most children.
If a dog or any pet is brought into the home, he should be treated as a full member of the family. Everyone should pitch in to take care of him and he should never be the sole responsibility of the child.
Most parents know children don’t have long attention spans. They go from one interest to another pretty quickly. The same fleeting exciting they feel for playing the piano, learning soccer, or taking dance lessons occurs when they beg for that puppy, kitten, or guinea pig. They are genuinely excited about the possibility of bringing home the fluffy, adorable creature but once they get what they want the newness starts to wear off and a new ‘toy’ eventually enters the picture.
This is a huge problem when parents purchase pets for children, especially if the pet is not going to be considered part of the family.
To be sure that the pet isn’t just another one of these whims, don’t ever make a pet purchase impulsively. You need to wait so your child can prove that he or she is serious about caring for the new animal. Here are a few possibilities:
- Volunteer with your child at an animal shelter so they can work with the animals
- Have your child save up the money to pay for all or part of the purchase price for the animal
- Let your child ‘babysit’ for the pet of a neighbor, friend, or family member
- Require your child to research the care required for the animal then create a schedule showing when they would provide that care (this drives home the amount of work that will be required)
Remember that even if your child does prove he or she is serious about having the pet, you should not bring home any living creature unless everyone in the family is in agreement and is willing to pitch in to care for the pet.
One of the best reasons to realize pets are not toys for children is safety: the safety of your child and of the pet. While the pair may look adorable together, they can put each other at risk. Dogs can nip, scratch, bite, or knock down a small child. Cats and other small pets can also cause injuries to children. Likewise, children can accidentally hurt their pets. That’s why it’s important for the pet to become part of the family so adults are present to supervise the interactions between the animal and the child.
With proper education and supervision, children and their pets can develop wonderful relationships. But these things must be provided by the parent and if the pet is viewed as a furry action figure or a big baby doll then that’s not usually going to happen. Also, an adult needs to socialize the dog or other pet so they are comfortable being handled by the child. That’s not something the child can do on his or her own.
Unlike that favorite toy which might break in a year or might be tossed aside in a few weeks, a pet requires a much longer commitment. Children aren’t capable of thinking about this type of commitment until they are much older so the parents need to take this into consideration when deciding whether or not to add a pet to the home.
Below are some examples of how long some common pets live so you can see how much of a commitment your family will need to make to that new pet.
- Hamster = 3 years
- Rabbit = 7 to 12 years
- Cat = up to 18 years
- Dog = 8 to 15 years
- Cockatoo = 70 years
Because your pet will be a part of your family for a long time, you don’t want to make the decision lightly. Too many unwanted pets end up in shelters or being euthanized simply because people didn’t really understand the commitment they were making.
Strategies for Bringing a Pet into the Family
If you make the decision to bring a pet into your home for your child, the following suggestions can help make the experience better for everyone involved:
- Choose a pet that will be appropriate for your child. Dogs and cats are better suited for older children while caged pets make good choices for school age children.
- Remind children to take care of the pet but don’t punish them if they don’t. Punishing the child may cause them to resent their pet and that could make the problem worse not better. You should also be ready to take over the care of the animal if necessary.
- Consider your child. You know your son or daughter better than anyone so always factor their personality into the decision you make.
- Use this as a learning experience for your child. Pets can provide many opportunities for learning and emotional development. They teach children to be empathetic, to be less selfish, to deal with loss, and to care about other living creatures.
Pets are not toys for children. They can be friends, companions, and confidants but they should never be viewed as toys. Remember that as the parent you are teaching your child how to treat animals so be a positive role model and make the decision to bring a pet into the home with only after careful deliberation.