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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Children and Pets

Jul 29, 2015 08:40PM
A Challenging but Joyful Combination

by Daneille Areco

Raising children and pets is not easy, but if you are up for the challenge, there are a few tips to consider. Parents and children should be involved on this decision. While all kinds of pets can bring a child pleasure, it is important to choose a pet that is right for your family, your home and your lifestyle—and one that your child can help care for.

Exotic and unusual animals may be difficult to care for and should be considered very carefully. Choose and animal that you have cared before. Getting a new pet should not be an experiment. Failure can cause a traumatic experience to your child and suffering to the animal.

Animals, large and small will teach, delight and offer a very special kind of companionship. A child who learns to care for an animal and treat it kindly and patiently, is learning to treat people the same way. Careless treatment of animals is unhealthy for both the pet and the child involved.

The parent must set the limits for the child and the new pet and serve as role model. Children will learn responsible pet ownership by observing their parents' behavior. Having animals can help children develop social skills among many other benefits, but parents must teach them the rules and layout guidelines.

Growing up with animals helps the child in a number of ways

  • Contribution to child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Development of compassion, empathy and trusting relationships with others.
  • Children talk to their pets and they can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts.
While other physical and emotional needs fulfilled by pet ownership might include
  • Physical activity
  • Comfort contact
  • Love, loyalty and affection
  • Life lessons about reproduction, birth, illnesses, death and bereavement.
But with responsibility also come a few ground rules that should always be followed.

Children under four do not have the maturity to control their aggressive and angry impulses, they should be monitored with pets at all times. Children under 10 are unable to care for an animal on their own. Parents must supervise the pet's care even if they believe their child is old enough to care for a pet. It is the parent’s responsibility to take care of that animal, and remind your children that animals, like people, need food, water and exercise.

Parents need to explain the difference between playing and teasing to children. Most children have a hard time with this concept and don’t understand that the pets can feel this type of emotion. Demonstrate the difference between playing and teasing with a toy that the child feels strongly about.

Another concern is that many children can be harsh with animals. They are not intentionally cruel but are more curious. The parent’s job is to set boundaries and teach the child that animals have feelings, can hurt, feel pain and cry. Teach your children to feel compassion, love and understanding toward those who are helpless. It is never funny to hurt an animal even if by accident. Your child should be held responsible. No more cruel bullies are needed in this world.

Although most children are gentle and appropriate with pets, some may be overly rough or even abusive. If such behavior persists, it may be a sign of significant emotional problems. Any child who abuses, tortures or kills animals should be referred to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for a comprehensive evaluation. If a child continues to neglect a pet, a new home may have to be found for the animal.

Pets are not toys, and when the honeymoon phase has lapsed, the glamor will certainly fade away. However, if parents can bring the children to the idea that caring for an animal is not a chore but an act of love, everyone will enjoy all the rewards of parenting with pets.

Daneille Areco is the owner of Chico’s Natural Pet Depot in Falls Church. To learn more, visit



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