By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.
The relationship between animals and children is a very special one. Pets, whether a dog, cat, bird, hamster, reptile or fish, help children gain a sense of independence and duty that can set them on the path to becoming mature, responsible adults. Pets also teach children social behavior, tolerance, how to make friends, and how to be sensitive towards others. A child who learns to care for an animal and treat it kindly and patiently, gets invaluable training in learning to treat people the same way.
Walking the dog, feeding the guinea pig and talking to the parrot can serve as fun study breaks for kids, and a replacement for television programs and video games. These pet-related activities help children remain focused on the task at hand, and are less likely to become distractions that will prevent homework and chores from being completed. While all kinds of pets can bring children pleasure, it is important to choose a pet that is right for your family, your home, and your lifestyle; and one that your child can help care for.
Here are some tips for parents who want a healthy pet-children relationship in their homes:
- Be careful in choosing aggressive animals. Even trained and domesticated animals can be aggressive. Also, exotic and unusual animals may be difficult to care for and should be considered carefully.
- Let your child do only those pet-related activities that he/she is truly capable of. For instance, do not let a young child feed dog, however even-tempered or friendly the dog may be. Or don't let the child walk the dog without an adult accompanying the child.
- If your child is afraid of your pet or a pet at someone else's home you are visiting, do not make it a big issue. If you try to force the pet on the child, he/she will be more withdrawn and afraid of the pet. Give the child some time to get used to being around a pet.
- Reptiles and even turtles are not good pets for children as they may pass salmonella bacteria to children.
- Teach your kids appropriate behavior around pets. Tell them to always ask permission from the owner before touching anyone else's pet. Also, never disturb an animal that is sleeping, eating or chewing on something.
- Teach your kids to touch their pets in ways that don't frighten animals. If a child is being abusive towards an animal, whether intentional or not, the parent should talk to him about how that makes the animal feel.
- In case the child continues abuse and neglect towards the pet, you can find a new home for the animal.
- If abusive behavior persists, it may be a sign of significant emotional problems. Any child who abuses, tortures or kills animals should be referred to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for a comprehensive evaluation.
- The children tend to be more attached and therefore more devastated when a pet dies. It's important to let children know that it's okay to be sad when the family pet dies and even to have a memorial service and burial if your child wants to.
Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center, http://www.startingadaycarecenter.com.