Growing up with a pet is undoubtedly a wonderful experience. However, for (your) a child and of course for all the other members of the family, it means more than just fun and games. Every animal has its individual needs, which go beyond intensive cuddling and frolicking. Which points should be considered before adopting an animal? If the decision is made to adopt a pet into the family, are there animals that are “especially suitable” for children? What is the relationship between child and animal?
Animals are not toys
First of all, an appeal to all parents and legal guardians: A pet is not a toy that you put back in the corner after playing. Admittedly, somewhat harshly formulated, but it should emphasise the fact that pets also mean work and responsibility. Almost like as if you were bringing another child into the house. An animal for pure fun is soon no longer funny for everyone involved.
The younger the children are, the more the adults have to keep a watchful eye until the children are old enough to understand the animal as an independent living being, to respect it and to understand its warning signs.
Pet as a new family member: Pros and cons
In the following, the advantages and disadvantages of an animal family member are discussed. Because as everywhere in life, there are unfortunately also points that speak against taking a pet into a family with one or more children:
Possible positive effects:
- Strengthening a child’s sense of responsibility and duty.
- Learn to accept and love a living being as it is.
- Learns to follow rules.
- Social skills, such as feeling empathy or respect, can be promoted.
- Increase in physical activity (e.g. by walking a dog).
- Calming effect (cuddling can have positive effects).
- Animals help to reduce stress and deal with emotions.
- Intensive attachment to another living being.
- Comforter for children (some children confide all their secrets to their pet, like animal therapists).
- Promotes self-confidence (animals take us as we are :)).
- Reduces the occurrence of later allergic reactions (contact with hair, dirt, etc. strengthens the immune system).
- Occupation away from mobile phone and television.
Which could be against it:
- The willingness to follow certain rules, as well as to take over certain tasks (cleaning the litter box, going for a walk, etc.) (depending on age), should definitely be present with the child.
- The parent or legal guardian has the responsibility. This person must be aware of this, that children will quickly lose interest in the tasks and the work will get stuck on her/him.
- The desire for a pet should be given by the child. The adult must want the animal in the same way, because a child can never master all tasks.
- The animal could be a danger for the child.
- Children (especially younger ones) could pose a certain danger to the animal (Risk of injury due to gross motor skills of small children or lying around toys, disturbance/stress due to noise, unpredictable body language of the child for the animal, etc.)
- Pets cost time and money.
- Animal hair allergies (all family members should be tested in advance).
- Who pays attention on holiday?
- What happens when the children are out of the house? Some animals reach an advanced age and usually stay at home.
Which pet is best suited to our family?
Pets are always an enrichment for us humans, but as a parent you might ask yourself (even justifiably) whether the chosen pet is compatible with your own children. Of course it makes a serious difference whether the hamster “pinches” or the 40 kg dog bites. At this point, however, it must be mentioned that there aren´t dangerous breeds or animals per se. For example also so-called list dogs can be one of the dearest and most caring family dogs.
Age of the child
Rather, other points should be taken into account, such as the age of the child. Especially very young children usually do not yet have the necessary understanding and sense of duty. In addition, they are often not yet so sure of their expression and body language, which can be confusing and frightening for some animals. Small children also cannot yet read the complex body language of animals. This could possibly lead to misunderstandings and then it can happen that the cat scratches or the dog snaps. In this case, the parents or legal guardians are required. Never leave your child unattended!
At what age the animal can be entrusted to a child depends on its maturity and character and must be individually assessed by the parents/guardians. But here is an approximate guide value:
Small children up to about the age of 4 years are not yet sufficiently developed in their fine motor skills and should only look at small animals in the presence of their parents. From the age of about 5 years on, children can help with certain activities, from 8-10 years on they can take over some tasks. Only at around 14 years of age can the child take over responsibility (Caution: The duty of control and help remains with the adult until the child is of age).
Small children and animals
It can be helpful to practice with friends’ animals in advance and have the child help out to see how great the desire for an animal really is. Learn and practice the correct behaviour from the beginning and set taboos: For example, if the animal eats, sleeps or hides, it will be left alone.
It could also be the case that the child becomes a “danger” for the animal. Especially young children are still very clumsy in their movements. It can happen that the little hamster is unintentionally injured or even killed, for example if it falls or is held too tightly.
Children must be taught in an age-appropriate manner not to touch the animal roughly and to respect its needs. Care should also be taken to ensure that the pet does not nibble at the child’s lunch.
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Costs, time and space
The time and money factor must also be taken into account in the decision. Especially dogs and cats take up a lot of time. This does not mean, however, that rodents and co. do not need regular care and affection. The larger the animal, the more costs (food, vet, insurance etc.) have to be taken into account. Every animal needs a lifetime of care & affection.
The available living space naturally also plays an important role. Cats need many structures and climbing possibilities, dogs need enough space for their size. If you live in the middle of the city, without the possibility to walk around extensively, you should consider whether a dog can be kept in a species-appropriate way. Also rodents like rabbits or guinea pigs should not be kept in cages all the time and need enough space.
Which animal and how many?
Some animals must not be kept alone. You must also be aware of this fact in advance. Keeping guinea pigs, rabbits, birds and co. alone is not appropriate for the species. Also cats, which will live purely in the apartment, prefer to live in company. The question you should now ask yourself is, whether you are also prepared to accept several animals of the same species. Keeping more than one animal in the same home will take up more of your wallet and your time. Of course, no animal wants to be neglected and kept busy enough.
Which animals come into question, which less?
If you already have a pet, you have to think about whether the new roommate will get along with it.
Children as enrichment for pets
- In most cases, children are more willing to be active and creative than adults. Animals can of course benefit greatly from this, for example by playing or romping around with them more.
- Adults usually have to devote themselves to many different things. Apart from kindergarten or school, children do not have as many duties in everyday life. Therefore, children have much more time to spend with their beloved pet to give attention and love.
- Consider that especially dogs and cats are similar to a small child in terms of intelligence. It is no wonder why so many animals feel especially close to children.
Alternatives to your own pet?
If you come to the decision not to bring a pet into the family, there are a few alternatives to give the child a little bit of nature and the desire for an animal:
- Building a bird or insect house and watching which animals approach.
- Trips into nature! There you can observe many animals from reptiles, birds, fish, insects and wildlife.
- Visits friends with animals.
- Taking over sponsorships, for example of animal shelter animals.
- Taking care of animals whose owners are at work or on holiday.
Children can learn a lot in dealing with animals. But our pets can also benefit from children. The only important thing is, that you think about whether an animal fits into your family life at all. Pets have different needs that should never be neglected. The responsibility always lies with the adult!