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Preparing Your Child For Their First Pet

Updated: Apr 10

Preparing Your Child For Their First Pet

by Rue Jyoti

Pet ownership has seen significant growth in recent years, as many turn to their pets as a constant source of companionship and support for their mental health. Pew Research Center reports that more than 62% of Americans are pet owners, and nearly 35% of this demographic have more than one animal in their household. In line with this, getting a family pet is also growing in appeal, especially since pet ownership presents developmental benefits for children.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, caring for a pet helps develop responsible behavior in children and teaches them compassion and empathy. Having responsibilities over pets also boosts their self-confidence and allows them to grow into self-assured adults. However, adding a furry friend into the family isn’t all fun and games and should be considered a lifelong commitment that your child is ready for. With this, we listed some helpful strategies to guide them in preparing for their first pet.

Loop in your child while choosing a pet

Before getting a pet for the family, ask your child about what they're looking for so they can express their genuine interest. This also helps you gauge if the kind of pet your child wants fits your lifestyle as a family and makes it easier to compromise if needed.

For example, if your child wants a small animal they can cuddle with, you could suggest getting small dogs, cats, or rabbits. Looping your child in the decision-making process is also a great way to explain the obligations that come with certain animals or breeds. If you can, bringing your child to an animal rescue or shelter to bring home a pet from there is a wonderful opportunity to help them value and respect animal life, which can also help them make less impulsive pet ownership decisions.

Simulate the experience of owning a pet

One of the best ways to learn is from experience, and there are toys available to simulate owning a pet to prepare kids for the real deal. You can use robot pets for kids, which are designed to act closely with real animals. To illustrate, the Joy For All Companion Pets Pup looks like a regular stuffed animal, but it produces realistic barking sounds when spoken to and has built-in sensors that respond to human gestures. This is a great way to set your child’s expectations for being a pet owner and see how they react during these interactions.

Similarly, you can teach your children how to be responsible with something less high-stakes, like a child-safe plant first. One of the most popular examples of this is a Chia Pet, wherein your child will need to learn how to ensure that their "pet" is safe and provided for. This includes watering it daily, keeping it under the right shade, and treating it gently. This will set the foundation for the mindfulness that children need to have for their actual pets. In doing so, they can avoid certain things like being too rough (which might merit a natural response from the animal) or overlooking critical needs like food and water.

Help your child create the right pet space

Even with the best training, pets are still vulnerable to hazards around the house. This includes sharp corners from furniture and possibly hitting their body against hard surfaces. As such, it’s important to teach your child how to create a safe environment where their pets can roam and play freely without the risk of running into household fixtures or breaking things.

Implementing strategies similar to baby-proofing your home can be helpful with this, as pets are also prone to accidents and need to be in an environment where they will be safe from harm. Traditional tools for baby proofing, like the Munchkin Loft baby gate, can easily be repurposed for a secure and comfy pet area. You can teach your child the importance of cleaning up the pet area to avoid messes and to keep their valuables in cabinets to prevent getting chewed on by their pet. If your child is very young, creating the right space also safeguards them from getting into certain pet items like some foods, medications, or cleaning supplies.

Practice pet exercises

Certain pets need regular physical activity and training, especially working dog breeds that require consistent mental stimulation. If you plan on getting a pet that leads a more active lifestyle or needs to be taught certain tricks, you can practice with your child to introduce the responsibility to them.

Try taking frequent long walks with your child, the same way you would with a dog, to see if they’re willing to take up that duty with a pet. Teaching them about common tricks for cats and dogs, such as "sit," "stand up," "paw," or approaching on command, is also important to exhibit the discipline required to be a pet owner.

If your child is old enough to use gadgets, you can even help them use apps like GoDog or Cat Training, which can help kids be more attentive and well--informed pet owners.

Editor Note on dogs: It is best that the entire family is trained on agreed-upon dog commands and enforcement procedures. Additionally, never leave your child alone with a pet. For more information on dog training or introducing an infant to your existing dog, feel free to contact us using the subject "PET."

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