Written by Team ParentCircle and published on 18 May 2021.
Children and pets can share a very special bond. The relationship can teach your child several important life lessons. Here's how you can foster a healthy connection between your child and a pet
A pet can bring immense joy to every member of a family. Over time, puppies or kittens can not only become companions and playmates but also take on the role of stress-busters. When it comes to children, interacting with a pet will instill in them a feeling of empathy for others and make them understand the need to be responsible for and care for the well-being of others.
Growing up with a pet is an important element in a child's development. Here are some ideas and suggestions that will help you to make your child bond with a pet, and benefit from the relationship.
Children pick up signals from the significant adults in their lives and learn by imitating them. So, if you consider the pet as a part of your family, and treat it as such, your child will automatically follow your lead. But sometimes, visual reinforcement helps too. So, include your puppy or kitten, or even the goldfish in its bowl, in family photos. You can even go for pet portraits. When your child sees the pet alongside parents, grandparents and siblings in photographs, he will subconsciously learn to consider it as part of the family unit. Once this happens, the next logical step is to accept that all members of the family, including the pet, have responsibilities towards each other.
Let your child become familiar with your pet and its needs. Encourage her to interact with the pet so that she can understand its specific needs. If your pet is a kitten or puppy, you could make a bed for it near your child's bedroom, so that she is able to check whether the pet is safe and comfortable at regular intervals.
Caution: Make sure that you supervise very young children when they interact with pets (even if it is just a kitten or puppy). It's easy for a toddler and a baby animal to hurt each other unintentionally, and if that happens, there could be fear on one or both sides, and bonding will be hard to establish.
Teach your child to be gentle with the pet. Explain to him that the puppy, kitten or rabbit can feel pain, fear, sorrow and joy, just as he does.
Show your child how to handle the pet, without hurting it. Demonstrate how to pat the animal gently. Tell your child to watch out for signs that show what the pet likes or dislikes. For instance, most dogs and cats don't like their tails being touched, but they love being tickled and scratched under their chins. Help your child to respect the pet's feelings, and take care not to do anything that distresses the animal.
It works both ways. The pet must be trained not to hurt your child. If your puppy or kitten tends to bite or scratch, correct it firmly but gently.
Encourage your child to play with the pet, but if the animal becomes too boisterous for your child's comfort, separate them immediately. Soon, both your child and the pet will get the message that they need to be gentle with each other. Once they enjoy spending time with each other, bonding will automatically happen. And you will have the pleasure of watching your child and your pet having fun together.
Gradually introduce your child to the concept of being responsible for the pet. For example, you can give older children the duty of taking the dog for a walk. Or put your middle-schooler in charge of feeding the pet.
Caution: Monitor the schedule yourself, till you are absolutely sure that your child has taken the responsibility seriously. If you find your child skipping or not doing the task properly, gently ensure that he understands that the pet is dependent on him, and he has to ensure its well-being.
Food is a magical bonding agent whether between human beings or between humans and animals. So, by encouraging your child to feed the pet regularly, you will be cementing the link between them. The fact that the pet turns to the child for this basic need of food will ensure a feeling of dependency on its side while the child will feel a sense of responsibility.
Such training on being caring and considerate about a pet's feelings and being responsible for its well-being will lay the foundation for becoming a kind, thoughtful and empathetic adult who is willing to take responsibility for loved ones as well as those who are weak, dependent or in need.
These simple pointers will help make the relationship with a pet one of the most rewarding and character-building experiences of a child's life.
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