Your daughter is obsessed with her best friend’s Jack Russell terrier, who gives new meaning to the word “adorable.” Your toddler squeals with delight every time they see another Animal Planet special on fluffy kitties. The signs are all there – they want a pet. And while you have fond memories of Misty, your childhood cat, it can be expensive and time-consuming to add another member to your family. Having a pet can teach children valuable lessons in responsibility, compassion, and respect, but don’t take the decision lightly. Is your family ready?
Your family dynamic, as well as your children’s ages, temperaments, and personalities, will go a long way in deciding if and when your family is ready for a pet. A busy family may not have the time to give an energetic puppy the training he needs. And while tiny kitties are undeniably cute, young children may mistake them for stuffed toys and play too rough. Everyone has a unique relationship with animals, so take your cues from your kids. And don’t assume just because you loved pets as a kid, your family will too.
Adding a pet to the family is like adding another child. And like most children, animals do well in structured, routine environments. Having a set time to walk Zero or feed Champ makes it easy for children to get involved, and may even become something they look forward to. Younger kids can help pick a new toy for Izzy to use during playtime, while older ones can take turns cleaning cages or litterboxes. Caring for an animal gives children a sense of well-earned satisfaction and is an excellent way for them to see how their actions affect others.
But what if your son promises you the moon for a dog, then decides feeding Wagsy isn’t that much fun? This is a perfect opportunity for you to have a talk with him about taking responsibility. Cooking after a long day at work isn’t always fun for you, but how would your child feel if you decided not to do it? We do all kinds things we may not particularly want to do for the people and animals we love, and realizing that is an important milestone for a child. While it’s ultimately up to you to make sure Wagsy doesn’t go hungry, it’s important for your child to realize that feeding Wagsy is an essential step to the privilege of having Wagsy around. And if you want to make feeding a pet more than a chore, try a friendly competition: have your kids take turns calling her to dinner, and see whose voice she responds to first. The good feeling that comes from knowing she recognizes the sound of their call will be its own sweet reward.
Pets are a great source of companionship and love, and caring for them from newborn to full-grown adult can instill fundamental values like commitment, respect, and consideration in children. But knowing when your family is ready to take the big step, and preparing ahead for the challenges of pet ownership, will make you that much appreciative of the good times you’ll share with your animal companion.