I am an animal lover. I always have been. I believe one of the greatest gifts parents can give to their children is the experience of having a pet at some point in their childhood. Having a pet gives a child the opportunity to learn many things:
- How to care for something more vulnerable than themselves.
- How to be responsible for the needs of the pet to be fed, sometimes taken outside, walked, cleaned, and given attention.
- To show empathy for the pet’s need for love and attention, care when it’s ill.
- How to think of the needs of something other than himself.
Timing for getting a pet is, of course, very important. And giving a child developmentally appropriate responsibility is extremely important, as is the type of pet a family chooses. The needs of both the family and the animal must be considered. Different animals have different requirements for time and attention. After a family chooses a pet, teaching a child how to behave around the pet is very important. Children will not instinctively know how to care for an animal. That has to be taught and that takes time and energy from the parents, but it is crucial. Children should never be allowed to hurt or tease an animal in any way, even in ways that may seem minor. And if a child or adolescent is intentionally harming an animal that is a huge red flag that the child needs to be evaluated for mental disturbances. So give some thought to whether or not your family might benefit from adding a pet to your household.