Preparing for a child’s first pet

With offices, schools, and extracurriculars all going virtual, family time has risen to a dramatic new level. One area of domestic life that has increased from the socially distanced status quo is the adoption and purchase of pets. Furry, feathered, or scaled, sharing lives with pets can be a great way to develop empathy and responsibility in children. Below, Star Bright Books shares tips and tricks on how to make pet ownership in families with children a paw-sitive developmental experience!


How and Where Should I Get a Pet?

Before visiting an animal shelter (or a pet store if adoption is not possible), first decide which type of pet will fit best into your family’s lifestyle. For example, do any family members have fur allergies? How many children are there and how old are they? The Association of Professional Dog Trainers recommends getting a large dog if you have toddlers to avoid a child accidentally injuring a smaller, more fragile animal.


From A Fish To Feed, written by Ellen Mayer and illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu.


Once the type and breed of pet are narrowed down, families can visit shelters to find their future companion. Ideally, children should take part in this process, as it helps children adjust to the reality of what the pet will be like on a daily basis.


This isn’t just advice for future dog and cat parents—many shelters house birds, rodents, and even reptiles in need of new families! Also, while pet stores and breeders are often a quicker route to getting a pet than shelters, be wary of unethical business practices at these institutions such as puppy mills.

Supervising First Interactions between Child and Pet

From A Fish To Feed, written by Ellen Mayer and illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu.

It is essential to monitor interactions between children and the pet for the comfort and safety of both. Having an animal that needs to be cared for every day is a big lifestyle change for children, so supervision from the start can address early problematic behaviors like aggression, overfeeding or underfeeding, and unhygienic interactions. Pets, like people, can occasionally get overwhelmed by the ways children might try to show affection or play, so swiftly establishing boundaries with the child and designating a child-free zone for the pet like a crate or bed will ensure more harmonious relations between the pet and children.


Establishing the Child’s Responsibilities for the Pet

Some say a pet is simply another child to care for. Indeed, it is recommended that adults in the household oversee and act as a role model to children in pet care. However, children can, and should, be assigned smaller daily tasks in caring for the pet. Having a routine chore assigned to children such as walking the dog or feeding the fish after school provides a positive developmental boost in kids as they get a chance to bond with and share responsibility for the pet. As A Fish to Feed shows, pets give parents and children a chance to share time and to talk, helping to bring families closer together and aiding in early language development. In busy families where parents and children are juggling numerous activities, sticking to a routine gets tricky. Making a physical schedule of when and who takes care of the pet that every family member can see may help.


Most importantly, enjoy the newest member of your family! Pets are not just great developmental skill-builders for children, they are true companions that will provide fond memories children can look back on for a lifetime.

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