The benefits to having a family pet aren't hard to see. Science has shown through numerous studies that having a pet, specifically those of the 'cuddly' variety, can reduce everyday stress, and lengthen and improve the quality of your life. Pets also provide kids with an opportunity to learn responsibility and kindness.
However, while the experience of owning a pet with your child can be both fun and rewarding, it can also become a burden. Here are 6 tips to help you avoid the mess and stress of co-caring for an animal with your little one.
1. Be realistic.
Understand that just because your child loves and wants to care for the family cat, that doesn't mean that you won't be stuck with the burden of cleaning litter boxes, paying vet bills, and driving around the neighborhood with a flashlight and a bowl of kibble every time it escapes from the house. While this tip may seem like a no brainer, don't be fooled. Many parents think that certain pets are just lower maintenance than others, and that their child will be able to handle the limited responsibility. But, while it is true that some pets are less work than others, parents have to be prepared for anything. What happens when that tarantula gets out of its cage when your child simply goes to fee it? Who has to clean up the mess when 'little miss' leaves the cap off her ant farm? Just be ready, no matter the pet, no matter the child's age, to come to the rescue when things don't go as planned.
2. Think age appropriate.
Because every child is different, there is no magic age at which your little one will be ready for the responsibilities that come with owning a pet. Try to use your best judgment when deciding on the right time to introduce an animal, no matter how small, into your home. Some children will be able to handle tasks like feeding, watering, bathing, and brushing as early as age 6 or 7. While others, well meaning as they may be, won't.
Always try to oversee/assist your child in caring for your animal. One day, he/she will be able to care for it on their own. Until then, don't leave your creature's fate in the hands of a forgetful or clumsy child, no matter how loving they may be.
3. Let them make the choice.
Unless your pet was adopted before your child was born, or when they were only a baby, try letting them make the choice. If your little one is in charge of picking out what type of pet they want, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. If choosing the type of pet isn't an option (i.e. your apt. only allows fish or someone is allergic to cats) then let them pick from a limited amount of choices.
4. Know the difference between 'your pet' and a 'family pet'.
Don't expect your child to love or care for a pet they didn't choose. They may not develop the same emotional attachments you did with your pet becuase it was never really theirs to begin with. Another thing to consider is that your child may simply not be an animal person. If they didn't ask for it, they aren't required to love it. Respect their decision and try to show them how they can respect your pet without having to like it, love it, or even care for it.
5. Privileges vs. Punishments.
Brushing fluffy should be a privileged, not a punishment. No matter how old your little one gets, he/she will always avoid something that feels like a chore. Make spending time with the family pet a good thing. Whether it's feeding time, bath time, play time, or nap time, time spent with your animal should be something to be looked forward to. If it isn't, you may want to reconsider pet ownership altogether. So, when Ron doesn't finish his homework on time, let him know he won't get to feed or play with fido tonight. But, when everyone behaves and finishes the things they need to do, get on the floor or go outside and enjoy your pet together! That is what owning a pet is all about.
6. Safety for everyone.
Be sure you go over the rules with your child before ever leaving them alone, or even partially supervised, with a pet. This isn't just for the pet's safety, but your child's as well.
Things they should know:
- Pet food is for pets and people food is for people. Mixing these around could cause little children to choke, and pets to become sick or even die.
- Treats are for special occasions. Giving your pet too many can cause them to be sick, and sometimes ruin training efforts by confusing the 'trick = treat' system your pet is coming to understand.
- Know when to back off. Pets can be good fun when everyone is safe and happy. But, ignoring the warning signs that an animal has had enough could result in someone getting hurt.
- Certain people foods should NEVER EVER be given as treats. (i.e. dogs can die from the cocoa in chocolate)
- Always wash your hands when you come into contact with pet urine or feces.
Owning a pet can be a dream or a nightmare, depending on the choices you make. Play it smart and get informed before ever bringing an animal into your home. With the right amount of teamwork, education, and love, the pet experience can bring your family a new level of happiness.
This blog post was provided by Stephanie Parker - our blog writer extraordinaire!