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Does Your Child Need A Pet?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Family Pets

No. The quick answer is “no.” But summer is a good time to adopt a pet and if your child wants a pet, you might be thinking that now is the time. Before you bring a pet into your household, here are some ideas to consider.

1. A pet is not a toy. Since a pet is a living being with needs and feelings, it comes with responsibility for meeting those needs and for treating the animal with respect. It will require your help in integrating it into the family.

2. Your child is not old enough to manage a pet on his own. No matter how old your child is, the responsibility of pet ownership cannot all be on your child’s shoulders. Giving your child this responsibility is unfair to the child, who is not equipped to handle it, and unfair to the pet, who deserves better than a child can provide.

3. All pets bite or scratch if they’re not treated well. Teach your children how to interact with the animal in ways that are not startling or scary to the pet. Model kind treatment. And never leave your child alone with a pet. No animal is 100% safe.

4. Take responsibility for training your family pet. No pet knows what you want it to do or how you want it to behave unless you teach it. Take the time to learn how to train your pet and then take the time to do that training. Remember that training a pet is an ongoing experience (sort of like raising children!). It’s something that’s never really finished.

5. Consider starting small. If your family has never had a pet before, then consider starting with a hamster or gerbil. These are self-contained in aquarium-like enclosures and require minimal daily care, but they are cuddly and fun. A cat requires a bit more maintenance and attention than a “pocket pet” but is still fairly self-sufficient. A cat will require playtime, grooming and regular veterinary care but can be left alone during the day without too much concern. A dog is high maintenance, requiring daily attention, exercise, grooming, and training. A dog may feel anxious if left alone all day and can comfort himself by chewing on things. A house with a dog will need to be “child-proofed,” at least until the dog understands his limits.

Pets are wonderful fun and they add an important dimension to a childhood. But having a pet in the household works only if you understand what you’re getting into. It’s important to realize that this is a family pet, not your child’s pet.

All that being said, summer is the perfect time to add the perfect pet to your family.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Dr. Anderson has always had a pet or two snoozing under her desk as she writes.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.