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Is Your Toddler Ready for a Pet?

Aug 17, 2007
Little kids see them everywhere... in the neighborhood, on play dates with friends, in pre-school, and in mall pet shops. Puppies, kittens, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish, birds, rabbits, gerbils - there's an unlimited supply of animal companions for children and adults alike. Eventually your toddler is going to utter those dreaded words, "Daddy, can I have ..." Then you'll have a difficult decision to make: is your child ready to have a pet?

Child development experts have long believed that children should have exposure to household pet companions. Having a pet has many advantages:

- Pets teach children about the existence of other living creatures first-hand rather than on television.

- Pets help children understand nature's ways and the authentic natural world rather than animated cartoons where all the animals, predators and prey, get along famously. Nice, but it teaches a false perception of the ways of the animal kingdom. Perhaps your toddler is not ready to watch the National Geographic channel where predators mercilessly run down their prey and eat them alive. But the misconceptions of movies such as "The Lion King" don't prepare your child for the real cycle of life.

- Owning and caring for a pet teaches your child responsibility and accountability. Fish die when they aren't fed. Hamsters squeal in pain if they're squeezed. Puppies have housebreaking accidents that need to be cleaned up. Animals aren't like stuffed Teddy bears; they need food, water, veterinary care, and a clean environment.

- Pets die. Children often have their first brush with death and grief when a beloved pet dies or must be euthanized. Understanding a pet's death is a dress rehearsal for the death of Grandmother or Uncle Bob. Coping with death is an important part of a child's socialization.

- Having a pet teaches toddlers the essential skill of empathy with other people and with animals. At this age, children should be developing a sense of compassion and emotional intimacy with others. This is how they learn to make friends and to avoid doing things that hurt others. Caring for a pet is the perfect opportunity for toddlers to learn kindness and tolerance.

- Pets are a lot of fun! Toddlers are endlessly fascinated watching hamsters run on their wheel, the crazy antics of ferrets, the playfulness of puppies and kittens, the graceful movements of goldfish, and the chattering of birds. Having a pet is not only great fun, but pets also provide valuable knowledge about the way real-life animals function in the world. With puppies, they find the only unconditional source of love in their lives.

If you think your toddler is ready to care for a pet, first consider what kind of pet is appropriate for your child's age, degree of understanding how to care for the pet, and the child's comprehension that these are living creatures that need daily care. For example, it would not be appropriate for a toddler to care for a large hookbill parrot such as a Macaw or African Grey. These talkative birds live a human lifespan, require special care, and have unpredictable natures; they can snap off a curious child's finger in seconds! These birds are pets for adults, not children. If you feel your child is ready for a puppy, remember that the puppy will grow into a full-sized dog. Dogs known for aggressive temperaments such as American Pit Bull Terriers, Rotweilers, Chows, and Akitas aren't good choices for a toddler. Good-natured dogs like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds, Poodles, and spaniels are a much better choice.

Not ready for puppies and kittens? Fish, guinea pigs and hamsters make outstanding first pets. Children learn to feed them, clean their environments, interact with them carefully and gently, and they provide hours of fun. Parakeets are also good choices; their bright colors and cheerful chattering are interesting and entertaining for a small child.

Pets can enrich your child's life and teach many valuable lessons. If you believe your child is ready for a pet, choose carefully and teach your child how to care for another living creature. Pets are wonderful teachers!
About the Author
Graham Johns writes regularly for YourToddler.net where you can read many more articles on baby nursery . Also go to Family Life for a range of informative articles on infant car seats and much more
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