Getting a pet is a big decision in a family. Pets require a considerable amount of daily attention and care and you must be sure that your child is emotionally ready to take on these and other responsibilities. According to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children raised with pets show many benefits. Developing positive feelings about pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others As they develop an interest in their pet, they will learn how to empathise with it which will improve their non-verbal communication skills. Taking care of an animal will help develop nurturing skills as the child will be able to take care of it and apply the same care to themselves.
As a parent you must be sure that your child is responsible enough to deal with a pet. Getting your child a pet is a great way to have them learn accountability by having them keep their pet safe, healthy and happy. However, having pets is not as easy as it seems especially if you do not have the time and energy to provide the needed guidance and supervision. The family as a whole should have the means and time to care for the pet and give it the attention it deserves.
There is no right or wrong age for a child to get a pet. Most specialists recommend that the child be at least six years old, however parents know their children best so it is up to you to decide. However, until your child is grown up himself, they will need your assistance with some things. For example if you are planning on getting a dog, the dog will require to be taken on regular walks for exercise, so until you feel safe enough to let your child walk unsupervised you will have to get involved in its care.
If you want your child to be ready to take care of a pet by themselves, then they need to be able to take care of themselves. It is unrealistic to expect that your child to be able to completely deal with everything that comes with owning a pet, however they should make a considerable effort.
Give your child a few age-appropriate chores to do around the house, such as putting out the garbage, making their beds or washing the dishes. If they are able to do these simple tasks with minimal supervision and over an extended period (as some could be behaving well temporarily just to get the pet), they could be ready for a pet.
Before getting your little one a pet, you should observe how they interact with their stuffed animals first. If your child is putting their toys in the microwave or leaving it out in the rain, they might not be ready for a living animal. You should also observe your kid around other people’s pets and see how he/she reacts to animals when exposed to them over a period of time. How do they interact? Does your child still pull their tails or do they engage in safe play with them?
Your child must be able to understand the concept of boundaries when it comes to approaching animals to ensure that they can handle it appropriately and in a way that won’t aggravate it. This way you will feel safe when leaving them alone if you eventually decide to get one for them. Although most children are gentle and appropriate with pets, some may be overly rough or even abusive. If such behaviour persists, your child might have serious emotional problems and should be referred to a child psychologist for further evaluation.
Some children might insist on getting a pet after seeing one on TV or being sold by the roadside (as is common in Nairobi), or when they visit a friend or relative with one. You must be sure that this interest is genuine and not a passing fad or media influence. However it is best to wait for them to actually mention it. You should be sure that your child actually wants the pet before deciding to spring one on them as a surprise. A pet is not a gift, but a commitment for as long as the pet remains in the household or remains alive. Your child must also be emotionally mature.
Kids can get very emotionally attached to their pets and so should be ready to deal with everything that comes with owning a pet, which includes illnesses and eventually death. Pets can get age related conditions and this comes with difficult decisions, which your child should be able to handle. If your child doesn’t fully understand the different lifespan of their pet, it might scar them emotionally if the animal dies, especially if they have never experienced loss of such a magnitude. If you are unsure of how to talk to your child about death we have highlighted ways to do this here.
Pets provide children with a connection to nature. They get to learn about the cycle of life, from reproduction, birth, illnesses, death and bereavement. Some children often talk to their pets, which is perfectly okay and good for them. Studies have shown that children talking and even reading to pets helps with learning disabilities because it provides them with a relaxing, stress and judgement-free outlet for them to practice. Pets fulfil many emotional needs for children, providing them with affection, loyalty and comfort which has a significant impact on their self-confidence, sensitivity and respect for others.