Journalist | Mom of Two
If you have little ones, the question is coming. When can we get a pet? Although we all love the idea of a furry friend of some kind, actually getting one for your family isn’t something to jump into without some meaningful consideration. Pets are a tremendous amount of work and responsibility, not to mention a significant financial obligation.
First and foremost, you and your spouse need to consider whether your children are old enough and/or mature enough to help care for a pet. Whether it’s helping feed the animals, walking the dog, or cleaning the hamster’s cage, they should be old enough to help care for the pet in some way. Otherwise, it is your pet, not theirs. Another point to ponder may be whether your family has the time to care for and actively play with a pet. Are you still spending huge chunks of your day changing diapers, washing bottles, and juggling your sleep with baby’s naps? If so, it may not be the most opportune time for a pet. If your kids are old enough to be asking for the pet, though, you’re likely ready to tackle the following questions and consider adding a pet to your family.
When discussing the possibility of a pet, your family should consider several points to help you choose the right one. It should be understood there needs to be a balance between the children’s ability to help care for the animal and the reality of the bulk of responsibility still falling on the parents (time and energy to help train the animal, finances for vet care, food, etc.). There are several questions that need to be asked. What is your family’s lifestyle? Do you travel a lot, or all you always on the go? What is your housing situation? Do you have a yard? If you don’t own your home, does your rental agreement allow pets? If so, what kind, and is there an additional fee? Has your family had any prior experience with pets, or do you have a family history of allergies or asthma? Finally, what kind of animal fits your family best? These are all legitimate questions you need to ask before you can consider specifically which pet is a perfect fit for your family.
Once these have been answered, the fun part can begin. Which pet is right for your family? Safety is a big consideration here. You always want to match your pet to your children’s ages, maturity, and ability to handle responsibility. For example, if you have very young children, a smaller, more gentle breed of dog would be a much better choice than a more aggressive, larger one. If you have children who are a little unsure about dogs, a cat or rabbit may be a better choice. Or, if you have family members with sensitivities to pet dander, you may want to consider something along the lines of a gecko, a bird, fish, or even a hamster or gerbil that would keep it’s dander confined to it’s cage.
As responsible pet owners, be sure to teach your children how to handle their pets and model appropriate behavior for them. All pets are animals and capable of biting or scratching if frightened or provoked. Children are full of energy and naturally curious, so they need reminders to be calm and gentle around their pets, particularly when they are being introduced to the home. Show them how to approach an animal with an open hand and to allow the animal to smell them first. Tell them where to pet, and until the animal is well adjusted to the family, allow them to pet, but not pick up, the pet. Teach them about animal body language, such as ear position, vocalizations the animal may make, and signs the animal may want some time to itself. You could even consider a “kid free” zone in the house where the animal can go to relax and have a break from active children and busy hands. It is suggested children and pets are always supervised until the animal and its behaviors are well known and predictable, and hence determined reliable if alone with the child.
Once you have decided what kind of pet to get and discussed how to be responsible pet owners, you’re ready to bring your newest addition home! Whether you rescue a puppy from the pound, get a kitten from a neighbor, or win a fish from the school carnival, your pet is bound to become a well-loved member of the family quickly. Pets are an excellent way to teach responsibility, keep your kids moving and active, and provide unconditional love and companionship for the whole family!
About Amy Williams
Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety. Follow Amy on Twitter here.