Around 63% of Australian households host a furry member of the family. Children reap many benefits from having pets; the research suggests that that beyond companionship, caring for animals may support the development children’s non-verbal communication skills and empathy.
Looking after pets can be a positive learning experience for kids, but the care of an animal should not be left to a child alone. Parents must play an active and thoughtful role in teaching children how to care for animals responsibly and safely.
Pets should never be bought or adopted on a whim (even if your child begs and begs). A cat or dog is a long-term commitment for the whole family. When calculating the forecasted costs of your new furry companion, do not under-estimate veterinary costs over a pet’s lifetime.
Always supervise your child with the family pet. Be in eye and ear shot of toddlers and babies around animals and stay close in case you need to intervene. Keep animals securely contained and away from infants when you are not in the room and establish separate spaces in the house for pets and young children.
Help your child recognise your pet’s cues of stress or fear. Together, you and child need to look out for the both the obvious signs of distress (e.g. cats hissing, dogs growling) as well as the more subtle signs (e.g. a cat swishing its tail). Children should be encouraged to give animals space when appropriate, including at sleeping and eating times.
It is essential that you model respect for animals so that your child can learn by example. Children learn more from observing us than listening to what we say. Show your child how to speak calmly and quietly with animals and handle them with gentleness. Praise your child when they do the right thing, for example “great job giving soft pats”.
NCNS in partnership with RSPCA hosts regular Pet Days at Cranebrook Neighbourhood Centre to offer subsidised de-sexing and micro-chipping. Check out our Facebook page to learn more: https://www.facebook.com/NepeanCommunity.
Follow these tips and you can create a healthy and happy home for both kids and pets.