Pets are a precious addition to any home. Living, breathing companions, they can teach kids a lot about compassion, responsibility, and love. But kids must also be taught how to care for and handle pets. If left to their own devices, children can play too roughly with pets.
An animal hurt by an exuberant child might hit back—or rather bite. And then what? A tiresome visit to the emergency room for the child. A one way trip to the local shelter for the animal. Such disasters can be prevented.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
The library is often a good place to start on a quest. Your librarian can help you pick out age-appropriate books to teach your child about pets. Picture books—especially books that encourage touch—are great for very young children.
Encourage your child to gently “pet” the animals in the pictures. Show him or her what gentle means. “I’m only touching the dog with two fingers. Can you do that?” Older children can learn about pets and other animals through the vast array of classic tales, such as Flicka, Black Beauty, and Lassie Come Home.
Respect Your Pets
Pets put up with our moods and absences. They deserve our respect. You should never force your attentions upon a pet. Teach your children to first look and see if the dog or cat they are so happy to see really wants to be petted or played with. This is especially true for other people’s pets.
Always ask for permission before approaching someone else’s pet. Chance encounters with dogs out for a walk with their owner are a great place to model this behavior for them: “What a cute dog. Is it okay if I pet him?”
Teach Your Children Well
Animals can be hurt, just like people. If your toddler plays too roughly with your pet, practice rough housing with your child to show him or her the difference between rough and gentle play. Tell him that kitty doesn’t like rough handling and show him what gentle play is. Never leave a young child unsupervised with pets—things can get ugly very quickly.
While you’re thinking about getting a pet, you can visit animal shelters, petting zoos, and even a friendly vet’s office with your child. Your child can spend some time there with the animals, touching them, watching them interact with other animals and with other people.
Talk to your child about what is going on. Explain that dogs learn a lot about the world from smelling everything. Watch kittens tumbling about, learning how to climb and jump.
A child’s relationship with a pet can set him or her along a lifelong path of respect for all living things. There are lots of ways teach your children about other animals. PETA, for one, saves animals.