It’s without doubt that owning pets will most frequently bring an added richness to the children of the household.
Indeed, science tells us that benefits of pet ownership for children includes learning about:
- Love, attachment and comfort
- Responsibility and nurturing
- Life, death and grief
At the same time pets help with sensory and non-verbal learning, have can have very positive effects on children’s mental health and should raise awareness of ecological and ethical issues.
Even though there will ultimately but the death of an animal to go through. Owning a pet should be a wonderful learning experience for a child.
But how can we ensure that there is harmony and understanding between our children and the household pets?
The first point to start with for any child is by ensuring that they understand that a pet is a living creature that needs to be cared for and respected.
The next thing to explain is that animals have needs and feelings and they rely on us, their guardians, for nourishment, companionship and loving care.
But what particular issues may need to be explained carefully to a child?
With dogs, children need to learn that though they can great fun and love to play and tug and chase toys, that when scared dogs can be dangerous. All parents need to educate their children in the very basics of doggy communication such as not only what certain behaviours mean but what to do when they occur e.g., when a dog growls it means “please back away” and that is the time for any child to go find a parent or older family member.
Children also need to be made very aware that most dogs don’t like being carried and cuddled excessively. Indeed, some breeds don’t like it at all! But that this is particularly true about puppies.
Respecting any animal’s space is a very important lesson for all children, but particularly important when it is a dog.
Cats can be very independent but at the same time can also pester for strokes. But children need to be made aware that cats can change their minds about what they want very suddenly! And that again that most are not inclined to like being carried or hugged; though certain breeds have more of a disposition to being handled.
Creating harmony between rabbits and children can be very much dependant on how the rabbit obtained was raised. Some rabbits, not handled correctly when young, can really hurt a child should they struggle to get away. If a rabbit is not good about being picked up or petted, then parents need to guide their children to other ways of interacting. Hand feeding a rabbit should always be fun, even amusing; and the child can take an interest in the various foods offered.
Again, children must be instructed carefully on how to handle their pets and to take care not to scare them. Guinea Pigs can be very chatty and children can be encouraged to listen and consider what their living creature might be trying to tell them!
Instructions on how to handle once again are very important. Rodents can scare easily so children need to be helped in approaching, handling, and interacting quietly and gently.
Though maybe not cuddly, children may wish to handle these pets but need special instructions on the correct method. Children need to also understand that removing these types of pets from their controlled environments can be very dangerous, and so they need extra knowledge on what is important in terms of heat and humidity.
Though only there for a child to enjoy looking at children need to learn what is important to their fish in terms of staying healthy, and alive. Knowing that they should not be removed and understanding why, being a very critical aspect of pet fish ownership.
Parents should always have a good understanding of the needs of any new pet they bring into the household before they purchase. That understanding then needs to be passed to the children, if they are old enough to comprehend. If too young to be able to comprehend, then supervision is necessary; and restricting access when pets can be supervised.
There are lots of books and videos especially created for children to learn about pets and the National Geographic Kids’ “Little Kids First Big Book of Pets” is a good starting point.