Pets can be an awesome addition to the family, bringing us love, fun, company and cuddles. Happy childhood memories often include time spent with the family pet. These animal pals can be a great comfort to children, providing a constant in their lives and sticking by them no matter what else is going on. Auckland's Starship Hospital has recognised the significance of pets to young patients with a special visiting area just for furry family members.
A well cared for pet can also play an important role in teaching children values such as empathy and kindness, particularly towards those individuals smaller and more vulnerable than themselves, be they animal or human. Encouraging children to participate in the care of family pets is a great way to demonstrate what responsibility means and additionally allows them to learn about the needs of animals.
A parent's attitude towards pets and the examples set at home will 'rub off' on children.
It seems reasonable to assume that this could affect the way children feel about animals and how they treat them, perhaps even later in life. Being respectful towards living things is certainly a positive characteristic in children and one well worth taking the time to demonstrate and encourage.
Here are my top tips for parents to ensure pet-keeping is a positive learning experience for younger members of the family:
• Be informed and aware of your pet's needs such as feeding, cleaning, exercise, suitable environment, quiet time, company and holiday care.
• If children are involved in caring for the pet, make it part of their daily routine just like brushing their teeth.
• If pet care duties are missed, be the backstop for the pet but make sure there is consequences for the child.
• Set a good example yourself around pets and animals.
• Don't make light of pet loss or injury or instantly replace a pet that has passed away.
• Include children in daily dog walks and other fun animal activities.
• Avoid impulse buying of pets.
• Supervise children around pets until you are confident they will behave appropriately around them.
As I write this I am under a dripping marquee at a rather unfortunately timed agricultural show. A fully fledged weather bomb is raging outside which has made our semi sheltered spot extra popular. I'm shamelessly eavesdropping as a Mum speaks wisely to her offspring about the animals I have on display, particularly two long haired guinea pigs playing tug of war with a carrot.
"They are very cute but it's not fair to get a pet until we can afford all its things and aren't renting anymore". A simple message successfully delivered, that pets deserve care and consideration rather than being brought home as you might a new toy.
With some well directed parental guidance pets are not just fun to have around, but also great teachers for children. By treating our animals as part of the family, the whole family benefits.