Having a pet to look after can be a greatly rewarding experience for young children, teaching them the important values of responsibility and caring for another living creature, as well as providing companionship and even love. So what kind of pet is best for a child?
Small or big?
It may be that a smaller creature, such as a fish, is the best pet for a very young child. However, it is worth bearing in mind that fish are high maintenance and can be termed fragile in terms of ease of care. Fish can mean a significant initial outlay too, as they will need a tank as well as aerators, heaters and filters to keep their water clean and oxygenated.
Cute and furry
Small rodents such as gerbils or guinea pigs are often a good choice for young children. Such animals need only a relatively small space in which to live and minimal care. The most that is needed is a clean living space and regular, appropriate food and water. Gerbils and guinea pigs need company, so acquiring these in pairs is advisable. Hamsters, however, prefer to be on their own. Children should be encouraged to handle these small animals with care to promote friendliness, while also being made aware that they can bite should they become anxious or annoyed. It is also important to make sure the child is aware that these animals have a relatively short life, only a few years, so that their demise does not come as a shock.
Dogs and cats
Dogs are a great choice for kids, but it is probably truer to say a dog becomes part of the family, rather than the responsibility of one individual. It is important to choose the right breed, as some dogs are friendlier than others. Best breeds for kids are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, sheep dogs or Cocker Spaniels. All dogs can be considered high maintenance, though, needing regular treatments, such as a Bob Martin wormer and flea deterrents, as well as daily walks, so children need to understand that this will be expected of them. Treated right, dogs give unconditional love and are great companions for kids.
Cats require the same kind of care of as a dog, but unlike a dog, can be left alone for extended periods of time and are very good at looking after themselves, which may make them a good choice for a child who is thought unlikely to be very committed to a pet. Cats do not require, nor always desire, human company, so children need to be aware that they cannot pull a cat about and demand its attention if the cat does not want to give it. Scratches will be the result if they do. Kids should also be told that cats need time to settle into a new home and so should not force any interactions.
Pets can be excellent for children, particularly if they are shy or introverted, for a pet can help to draw them out of their shell and socialise. Children do, however, need to be made aware that owning a pet is a huge responsibility and that a creature’s wellbeing is not to be taken lightly.
This is a collaborative post