So your child's started begging for a guinea pig or a puppy, and you're considering it. You know that pets are a big responsibility, but how can you tell if your kid is really ready for the commitment? As a parent, it's your job to determine whether or not now is the right time to add a new furry member to your family. Here are a few pointers to help you make the call.
1) What's there to gain?
It’s quite clear that there are, in fact, a multitude of benefits to pet ownership when it comes to childhood development. This article from Parents lists just a few of the ways that caring for an animal can enrich your kid’s life and help them cultivate healthy, long-term habits. Among the more obvious and expected benefits such as the opportunity to exercise responsibility and develop empathy, the article also mentions emotional, cognitive, social and even physical development among some of the valuable rewards of pet ownership. Clearly, under the right circumstances an animal can bring joy and learning experiences into your entire family’s life, but how can you know for sure if it’s a good idea or not?
2) Enthusiasm and comfort around animals
If you're feeling unsure or you're wanting to know what signs to look for, check out this article from Care.com which outlines some of the key ways to know if your child is ready for pet ownership. As a priority, the article states first that your kid must be comfortable around other animals. Are your children eager to interact with the animals they see in their day-to-day life? Do they approach family members’ dogs and cats with respect and gentleness?
3) Assess your child and know the animal
While a genuine interest in animals and readiness to engage them in respectful ways is a key ingredient, you must also decide whether your child is mature enough for a pet. In an article on pet ownership, Healthy Children reminds parents to be mindful of their child’s responsibility level and developmental stage. If you feel your kid lacks the discipline to have a pet that demands constant attention and care such as a puppy, it doesn't mean you have to rule out animal ownership as a whole. For children who are still developing, you might consider something like a goldfish or a small rodent, which often require less attention. As stated in the article, it's also important to consider not just your child’s ability, but your family’s home and schedule as a whole. Different animals require different levels of commitment; never buy or adopt a pet you know little about, as many small animals such as some variations of turtles and birds may seem straightforward and easy to care for, but actually demand constant attention and special conditions. In short, know your child, know you family, and know the facts before selecting a new pet.
4) Know yourselves
If you’ve determined that your child and home are ready for a pet, Working Mother reminds it's readers that there’s one last thing to consider. While the newest member of the family may be your child's, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure the animal is cared for and healthy. The animal may live in your kids’ room and receive attention and care from them, but at the end of the day it is your responsibility. For that reason, parents considering acquiring a pet for their child must first ask themselves if they are ready and willing to care for the animal themselves should the child lose interest or prove themselves incapable of providing for its needs.
5) Adopt if possible and let's be humane
If all the signs point to “yes” and you've decided it's time to adopt a furry critter, Huffington Post encourages parents also to consider where their new family member is coming from. It's recommended that families seeking an animal check out their local RSPCA shelter and look into adopting an animal that has been abandoned or orphaned. If a breeder must be involved, it's essential to do your research and find a reputable one that practices safe and humane breeding practices.
In short, the question of whether or not your child is ready for a pet is also a question of whether your home is ready for one, and whether you as a parent are prepared. Fuzzy family members aren't toys or playthings. In truth. They're living, breathing creatures that require care and attention -- so take your decision seriously and be sure to do your research.