Pets are part of many children's lives. Parental involvement, open
discussion, and planning are usually necessary to help make pet ownership
a positive experience for everyone. 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. Careless treatment of animals
is unhealthy for both the pet and the child involved.
Choosing an Appropriate Pet
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. Parents should be cautious
about having aggressive animals as pets. Remember, even trained and
domesticated animals can be aggressive. Also, exotic and unusual animals
may be difficult to care for and should be considered carefully.
Caring for a Pet
Taking care of a pet can help children develop social skills.
However, certain guidelines apply:
- Since very young children (under the age of 3-4 years) do not have
the maturity to control their aggressive and angry impulses, they
should be monitored with pets.
- Young children (under 10 years) are rarely able to care for a large
animal, a cat or a dog, on their own.
- Parents must oversee the pet's care even if they believe their child
is old enough to care for a pet.
- If children become lax in caring for a pet, parents may have to
take over the responsibility on their own.
- Children should be reminded in a gentle, not scolding way, that
animals, like people, need food, water, and exercise.
- If a child continues to neglect a pet, a new home may have to be
found for the animal.
- Parents serve as role models. Children learn responsible pet ownership
by observing their parents' behavior.
Advantages of Pet Ownership
Children raised with pets show many benefits. Developing positive
feelings about pets can contribute to a child's self-esteem and self-confidence.
Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting
relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help
in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy. Pets
can serve different purposes for children:
- They can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts--children
often talk to their pets, like they do their stuffed animals.
- They provide lessons about life; reproduction, birth, illnesses,
accidents, death, and bereavement.
- They can help develop responsible behavior in the children who care
- They provide a connection to nature.
- They can teach respect for other living things.
Other physical and emotional needs fulfilled by pet ownership include:
- Physical activity
- Comfort contact
- Love, loyalty, and affection
- Experience with loss if a pet is lost or dies.
Although most children are gentle and appropriate with pets, some may
be overly rough or even abusive. If such 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.
Daycare.com would like to thank American Academy of Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry for this information in striving to make daycare and childcare
a more productive and efficient service. You can contact them at: 3615
Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20016-3007 voice: 202-966-7300