Forever Home: What to Know About First Pets for Small Children

Are you hearing, “I want a pony!” a lot lately?

Some kids start angling for a pet as soon as they get out of the womb, and others don’t really fall in love until their preschool visits a petting zoo, but sooner or later, they all ask. If your family goes with the fold, you are all busy and energetically taxed, and the idea of a new puppy is slightly less desirable than a root canal.

Even if you do have animals already, there is something unique about ownership that really does change kids, which is one of the reasons that organizations like 4H are so predominant. Caring for a living creature is an ongoing lesson and reward that will enrich your child’s life. Stop and think for a second about your first pet: you probably remember its name, where you got it from, and what kind of habitat you had for it. It is a memory-building experience to care for a pet, no question.

That said, even if you are a seasoned pet owner, there are some things you should consider about the young child/pet combination before welcoming in that new family member. DiscoBratz has got you covered.

  1. Make them earn it. Fortunately, a child’s desire for a cuddly thing of one’s own coincides nicely with more independence, as well as motor and social skills, so don’t just hand over the goods. Ensure this is not a passing fancy by setting up a chart of tasks and good behaviors.
  1. Low stakes learning. One of the worst mistakes parents can make is diving right into the steepest part of the learning curve with a puppy or kitten. We suggest instead that you start with a virtual pet or plant first. This gets your children into the rhythm of care. And explain that if they can show responsibility for Moy or a fern, then they can work their way to a live animal.
  1. Keep track of their progress. It is hard for adults to remember to do some things everyday, so it’s even more of a challenge for kids, but the idea here is that they are working toward a goal. Talk to them about it, set a date, add up their stars, and do a little research. Be sure to praise them when they remember to feed their pet or plant without being reminded.
  1. Small low maintenance pets. Small, fresh water fish are ideal candidates for a couple reasons: they don’t require much aside from water, a bowl, and food every few days. Box turtles are also relatively low maintenance and they are surprisingly social once they are comfortable; however, just like hamsters, they have been known to bite little fingers. Hamsters are really fun, but they are active at night so if you go that route, keep it in another room aside from your child’s bedroom.
  1. Prepare for the circle of life conversation. One of the things parents don’t realize is one day in the near future, your children will see their beloved fish floating belly up in the bowl. Most children only understand death as an abstract thing that happens to old people (no kidding!) so this will have shattering consequences for them if they are attached. That isn’t to say it’s a bad idea, this is actually a pretty good way to have the talk about mortality; just prepare yourself for it with simple language they can understand. It will be the first of many on the subject.
  1. Cat vs. Dog. Which team is your family on? Some points on either side of the great divide: cats are easy to litter train, they don’t require walking (unless you really like a challenge), and they sleep around 14 hours a day. They can also become neurotic and overweight if they are inside all the time. On team dog, puppies can be very messy as they learn to train, and many of them like to chew, so it will be akin to baby-proofing the house all over again. The alternative is to adopt a full-grown animal, and there are millions of lovely ones at your local shelter. Dogs need much more active care and even if your child is old enough to do the walking and feeding, you will necessarily be taking on some of that too. This can be a great excuse to stay active, and no one has to tell you the loving exchange your child will have with either of these choices.
  1. Consider some other fauna alternatives. Many cities allow single-family residences to keep chickens in their backyard. A small hutch and a bag of feed, and you are in business. Chickens are incredibly easy to maintain, and you get fresh eggs! Some other options: guinea pigs, chinchillas (very mild mannered and so soft!) budgies, and cockatiels.

Learning to nurture is an essential human skill, but it must be demonstrated and reinforced like any other aspect of development. Taking some preparatory steps will ensure your family has a positive experience, and that you end up with the right animal that everyone loves.

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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