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Pets teach kids responsibility, caring, and so much more. So there’s a great reason to say yes when they ask you for a pet! Still, there are some considerations to take into account.

At some point, kids always want a pet of some kind. So don’t be surprised when they ask for one.They might want a kitten, puppy, bunny, horse, iguana, turtle, bird or other animal. So many choices!! Your first reaction might be to say no, but instead, consider how kids with pets learn responsibility from the experience.

There are a few things to consider. First, choose a pet that is age appropriate. Small children may not be mature enough to learn to take care of a puppy, for example. You will end up doing most of the work yourself. Instead, find a pet that can keep their interest while they learn all about it.

Second, know the benefits of what pets teach kids. Kids can learn to care for something other than themselves. Pets teach selflessness and empathy. Kids will learn to put the needs of “others” over their own.

Pets teach kids social behavior, too. For many kids, pets are their first friends. Also, a pet can help them make more friends by interacting with others who own pets. It’s a win-win situation for kids and parents as long as you can take on the responsibility of teaching your kid to care for their pet. It takes patience but it will be worth it in the long run.

Here are a few ways to help your kids get started.

  • Take a class – Local community centers, pet stores and animal shelters may hold classes to help others learn how to care for pets. This is useful before you buy the pet to gauge your child’s interest in certain pets.
  • Visit pet stores – Let kids see pets and hold them. Some kids like the idea of pets but not the thought of handling them. For those kids, starting with a pet that they can’t touch like fish might be a better choice.
  • Show them what to do – Before kids can learn to care for their pets, they need to see what it involved. If you have fish, show them how to feed the fish, clean the aquarium and change the water. It may take several times (if you have small kids) but they will catch on.
  • Discuss the consequences of not caring for them – When they forget to feed or clean the cages, discuss what will happen: odor, germs and more of a mess than you originally would have had.
  • Be backup – Watch your child care for their pets, but know that you are backup in case they forget to do anything.

Children can learn to care for pets at any age. Start small children with animals that don’t need much care and graduate as your kid demonstrates maturity and continued interest.

Pets teach kids so much more than you might think!