If you are thinking about getting a pet and you have children, it may be time to step back and evaluate your kids’ attitude toward animals. Many children have never had any guidelines as to the proper rules for dealing with animals. Some kids run up to animals recklessly and other shy away in fear when they encounter one. Learning respect for animals should be a big part of growing up, but the increasing number of dog bite incidents are clear evidence that parents aren’t telling kids what they need to know.
Start teaching your kids about animals at an early age. Show them how to listen and learn about their animal compatriots by watching critters from a distance at first. Point out birds in the trees or dogs in the neighbor’s yard and discuss the animal’s behaviors. Visit zoos, shelters, ranches and other places where animals are in a controlled setting. Show your kids how to approach animals in non-threatening ways and take advantage of the many pet books to educate them on the roles animals play in our lives.
Teach your child to be gentle. You might show them how to stroke an animal gently on a stuffed animal first, then graduate to a friend’s pet that you know is very gentle. Be sure to teach your child not to chase or hit any animal. Studies show that cruelty to animals is frequently linked to human violence and abuse. A kid that is taught to care about animals learns that animals AND people are living things that should not be treated violently.
If you plan to get a pet, have your child help you research breeds and learn how to take care of the new pet. Explain that owning an animal is a lifetime commitment and point out than animals should not be treated as disposable "throw away" toys. Show your kids the importance of having the pet as a family member, but don’t expect small children to take full responsibility for caring for an animal. Getting a pet is a fantastic opportunity for education. Kids that have been taught to respect animals learn to look at the world around them in a more humane, caring way. And who wouldn’t want that for their kids?