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When your child asks for a pet

by Traci Schumacher on Fri, 05/17/2013 - 10:27pm

Kids love animals. My children are fortunate to live in a family that has two dogs and four hermit crabs. We have also temporarily cared for a variety of lizards, snakes, frogs, caterpillars, and such. We are definitely animal-friendly at our house.

And yet my kids want more. They continually ask for more pets of different kinds. Birds, lizards, fish, mice, anything. Instead of being content with our current critters, my children yearn for more.

I understand this longing for animal friends because I was just like that when I was a kid. Except that I had to wait until I was 10 years old to get my dog. So I understand the longing, but now as a parent I understand the logistics.

I recently read somewhere that if a child is under the age of 10, the pet and its responsibilities belong to the adult. Forget the notion that Fido or Fishy is “their” pet. They will not care for it properly, if at all, and thus the animal's care falls to you, the parent. The pet is truly yours.

Around the age of 10, kids really begin to be able to care for pets (to varying degrees depending on the pet and the child). At this point you can entertain thoughts of your child having his or her “own” pet and being responsible for its care.

So when my children beg for this bird or that snake, and I am positive that I do not want another pet to care for myself, I can answer with an unwavering “no.” And when my 9-year-old daughter asks for a bearded dragon for her tenth birthday, which is nine months from now, and she promises that it's the only thing she really wants at all, I can review how she cares for her/my hermit crab. And when I see how far she needs to grow in responsibility, I simply answer, “We'll see.”

In fact, we will need to see a lot of improvement in care-taking abilities before a bearded dragon – or any other creature - makes its home with us. There is, of course, plenty of time for growth in this area, even if it takes until age 11 or 12 or more. I can wait. The trick will be to see how well my kids can wait. They say patience is a virtue, right?

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