"Please, Mommy. Pleeeeaaaase! He's soooo cuuute!!" If your kids are begging you to get a pet, think first before making that purchase. Many pets are bought on an impulse, which is sometimes not a good thing. Before you bring an animal into your home, be sure you teach your kids how to care for pets. It may seem simple in retrospect. But caring for an animal is a big responsibility that isn't for everyone.
Educate your kids first. Many pet supply stores and animal shelters have classes that kids can take to learn all about proper animal care. There are also plenty of books and trusted veterinary websites to learn more from. There is no excuse for not learning how to take care of a specific animal before making that purchase or adoption. Remember that any potential pet is a living, breathing being that deserves to be part of a loving, caring family. Our family's first hamster taught a valuable lesson about why parents need to educate kids before adopting a pet. Read, absorb, and discuss all the knowledge you and the kids can before bringing a new pet home.
Make your home pet-friendly. Think about what type of animal your family will be bringing home. Are there hidden dangers in your home that could be hazardous to your pet? Do you have other pets? How will they react to a new family member? Will your cat try to attack a hamster or a dog? If so, do not adopt those animals. Opt for pets that your existing animal family members will get along with or will be isolated from. Cats, dogs, birds, and other animals that may not be in cages need to be kept away from harmful items. Store chemicals in a locked cabinet, be sure there are no loose nails or chords, and check for other potential hazards. Pet-proofing can be much like baby-proofing. Let the kids help you with this so that they know and understand that pet care is serious business.
Soothe your pet's transition into the new home. When you bring your newly adopted animal into the home, he might be a little frightened or apprehensive. Give him time to adjust to his new settings. While your kids may want to play with your new pet right away, this may not be what the animal has in mind. A dog or cat may want to sniff out the place and even find a hiding spot for a little while before opening up. A hamster may want to hide under his bedding or inside a hamster house for a day or so. Give your pet some time to get used to the new surroundings and to you and the kids. Be sure the kids know how important this step is for your pet.
Show kids how to be gentle. This is one of the most important lessons kids need to learn with animals. Start teaching kids about this before you ever bring home a pet for the first time. A good way to do this is to bring the kids to homes of relatives with animals. You can even visit animals shelters regularly. Some will allow you and the kids to interact with the animals directly. This can help develop a relationship with a potential pet while also teaching the kids to be gentle with animals. If your children cannot be gentle with animals and do not have a visible care and compassion for them, pets are not a good idea.
Teach them about both the ups and the downs. Kids should know the joys of having pets, as well as the possible heartache. Having pets can be very rewarding and fun. Kids will enjoy playing with and observing pets. But they should also know that their pet will probably die before them. Small animals, like hamsters, live a very short life. Also, there is no guarantee that even a healthy animal will live its full life expectancy because anything can happen. Teaching kids about the possibility of their pet dying before it happens can help soften the blow when it does. You don't have to be overly graphic. But they should definitely know about both life and death when dealing with animals.
Pets are a fun and rewarding experience for both parents and kids. But it is vital to the health of your kids and pets to teach the children important pet care habits prior to adopting one.
*I originally published this as a Yahoo Shine Parenting Guru