7 Things to Consider When Your Kid Asks for a Pet

Animals need love, attention and consistent care. Is your child ready?

Children can learn a lot from taking care of pets. Photo: Cristian Bortes

If your kid is anywhere over the age of 5, there’s a good chance they’ve started the process of begging for a pet.

This is the age kids start interacting with friends at school and truly understand what they’re missing out on when they’re the ones without all the fun pet stories to share. Maybe you wouldn’t mind having a pet either, but you may be unsure of whether your kid is mature enough to help raise one yet.

Before giving into your child’s endless persuasion tactics, consider the following factors.

1. Current Responsibilities

They might not jump at the chance to take out the trash, but if you find yourself constantly making sure your kid has taken care of their own responsibilities, imagine how it’ll be when you add a pet to the mix.

Dogs, for example, need constant care. They need to be fed, let outside and monitored daily. Will your kid remember to do everything without endless reminding?

If the thought sounds exhausting, consider starting out with a fish or turtle. While these animals still need care and attention, they’re much easier to raise than a dog or cat.

2. Exposure

If your kid has never spent time around other pets before, you can’t be sure how they’ll react to having one of their own. The idea of raising a dog might sound fun, but when faced with one, they might think differently.

Set up play dates with friends who have pets. See how comfortable your kid is interacting with a variety of animals. Another option? Spend an afternoon at a local shelter.

If they’re not yet comfortable when it comes to physical contact with an animal, spend some time helping your child get used to them before introducing one into your family.

Are your kids ready to commit to caring for a pet? Photo: ThreeIfByBike

3. Be Patient

Is their begging trend just that — a fad? Give it time before giving in. If your kid’s been asking for a while and assuring (and showing) you of their capabilities, it might be time to start searching for a new addition to the family.

If their asking for a pet is a brand-new topic, spend time explaining pet care responsibilities. Make sure your kid knows exactly what they’re getting into.

4. Personality

To be blunt, does your kid spend a lot of time focusing on themselves, or do they have a nurturing personality?

The key with this question is if your child isn’t naturally caring of others, helping them raise a pet could change that for the better. Animal care teaches maturity and responsibility, but also empathy.

5. Allergies

You might not know the answer to this yet, but there’s always a chance your kid is allergic to some sort of animal dander. If you’re not sure, try exposing them to different types of animals and watch their reaction.

Do they get itchy eyes, runny noses or hives? If so, their pet choice will be limited. Make sure you know the answer to this before making a full commitment.

Looking after a pet takes time, patience and a whole lot of love:

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6. Available Time

Does your kid spend all their time zipping from one after-school activity to the next? Are their weekends filled with Little League and pool parties?

If so, while they might be capable of caring for a pet, they might simply not have time. Take a look at their schedule (which should be easy, assuming you’re their regular chauffeur). Is there room for pet care?

7. Taking Over

If your smooth-talking kid succeeds at convincing you to bring a pet into the family, you are ultimately the one who needs to take responsibility for the animal.

You might be convinced your kid will care for their new pet, but let’s be honest: Kids are kids. Before ever saying yes, decide whether you’re truly happy to take on full responsibility for a pet. This means no returning the pet to a shelter or giving it away just because your kid falls through on their promises.

Animals are deeply affected by how they’re treated. If they get comfortable with their “forever home” only to find out it’s not truly “forever,” they won’t just brush it off. Keep your potential pet’s well-being in mind before bringing them home. Only agree if you’re on board to handle the pet care, too.

After considering these factors honestly, you should have a much deeper insight into whether or not your child is ready to take on full-time animal care.

Having pets can help teach kids responsibility. Photo: mburleson

5 Steps to Preparing Your Kids for a New Pet

OK, so you’ve finally given into the begging and pleading. You’re bringing home a pet.

The benefits of raising a pet with your kids are hard to ignore. But before bringing your new furry (or feathered, scaly or maybe even slimy) friend home, learn how to prepare your kids for its arrival.

Follow these steps for a more seamless transition into the world of family pet care:

1. Pet-Proof

Remember when you had to baby-proof your home in preparation for the arrival of your kids? Bringing home a pet isn’t much different, especially if it’s a puppy or kitten capable of finding its way into risky situations.

Not sure where to start? A trip to your local Target and a tour down the baby aisles might help.

Major points to keep in mind:

2. Set Expectations

Your kids need to know what to expect from a new pet. They also need to know what to expect from you. Will they play a big role in the care process? Will they need to feed the pet each morning or take them out in the afternoon?

Helping raise a pet is a great way to instill a sense of responsibility, though you should avoid using pets to punish your kids. Help them by setting expectations and rules ahead of time.

Taking care of pets requires patience and time. Photo: mcconnmama

3. Create a Schedule

A simple way to get your family involved in pet care responsibilities is to keep a calendar on the fridge.

Assign daily tasks to each person in the family (make sure to include yourself). Keep a stack of stickers next to the calendar your kids can use to “check off” their daily tasks. You can even give rewards for tasks being done by a certain time, like extra one-on-one time with the pet.

Having a schedule creates accountability for everyone in the family. With stickers involved, you can create a level of “gamification” for your kids, too.

Not sure which tasks to assign? With a new dog, for example, your calendar could include:

  • Breakfast by 8 a.m.
  • 10-minute walk by 9 a.m.
  • Give 2 bathroom breaks by 10 a.m.
  • Playtime with a toy for 20 minutes.
  • Water bowl cleaning and refilling.

Your list can grow and expand as you find new activities that get your children involved in the care process. The most important part? Make these “tasks” seem like privileges. Your child doesn’t have to take care of their pet—they get to.

4. Understand Pet Language

Dogs, cats and other pets speak a different language than your kids. They don’t always see giant bear hugs as loving. They might not be excited about getting their faces squished by a tiny set of hands.

To ensure your kids and pets become the best of friends, teach your children how to interact with them properly. Go over big rules, like no chasing, teasing or taking away food.

Make sure to teach all the basics, too, like:

Kids don’t typically understand when or how they’re upsetting a pet or if their hugs or petting is too forceful. Teach them how to speak their future pet’s language ahead of time, or even better, demonstrate and practice with a friend or family member’s pet.

There are several ways kids can benefit from caring for a pet, as seen in this video:

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5. Test Run

Before introducing a new pet into the family, spend some time with other animals. See how your kids interact with dogs, cats, birds and hamsters. Watch their body language. Are they scared, or do they love it?

One of the best ways to get a realistic picture of how your family will handle a pet is to take care of one for a few days. Is a friend or family member heading out of town soon? Offer to take care of their pet. Introduce feeding, bathroom and playtime routines to your kids to make sure they understand the level of responsibility pets require.

Of course, your kids don’t have to be perfect with the pet right off the bat for you to bring one into the family. It takes time to establish new routines, and caring for the life of an animal will take practice.

Above all, the No. 1 rule to remember is raising a pet requires patience, with both your kids and your new family member. By setting expectations and planning ahead of time, your family’s transition can be fun, exciting and rewarding.