Kids, Pets, and Other Animals

Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.
—British author George Eliot

Animals can be wonderful friends, especially to young people. Some kids, even very shy ones, are willing to show sides of themselves to animals that they would not reveal to another person as readily. Other children learn compassion and how to care for another creature; and animals can be very funny, cute, friendly, and kind—all qualities that young people need in their lives! Even if you don’t want a pet in your home, you can expose your children to animals in a variety of ways.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Animals are like people in that they have different ways of showing affection, likes and dislikes, personality quirks, and so on. Help kids and teens figure out how best to relate to animals, especially pets, just as you would help them negotiate their human friendships.
    • Know that the illness, loss, or death of a pet can be a significant, traumatic event for young people. Help your children understand and deal with such situations by allowing them to show their emotions in appropriate ways (crying, holding a memorial service, drawing or writing, or others). Talk about your own feelings, and provide relevant books or other resources.
    • Visit places where you children can see animals of all shapes and sizes—zoos, natural history museums, pet stores, aquariums, nature centers, state and county fairs, and humane societies, to name a few.
    • Take walks together. Name and talk about the animals you see.
    • Be sure everyone in the house agrees on and knows what their role will be before you get a new pet.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Read books about lots of different types of animals from all over the world. Include funny books, factual ones, and those with good story lines.
    • Take your baby or child to visit friends who have gentle pets that are good with children. Allow your child to spend supervised time interacting with the pet.
    • Teach your child never to approach a strange dog or other animal without first getting your permission or permission from the owner.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Together with your child, learn basic pet safety such as always approaching an animal slowly, never running away from a dog (it might think it’s a game of chase), and being very gentle.
    • If your child’s teacher keeps a classroom pet, consider hosting the class pet at your home for the weekend.
    • If you have a pet, inquire about having your child bring it to school to show classmates. Help your child think about what to say and how to present information about your pet. If the school does not allow animal visits, help your child put together a collage of photos for the same purpose.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Help your child inquire of neighbors and local animal-serving organizations about animal-related jobs or volunteer opportunities, such as dog walking, pet sitting, or advocacy work.
    • If you have a pet, encourage your child to take on more responsibility for pet care as he or she matures. If your child is interested in getting a pet, work with her or him to do plenty of research on the care needed for the type of animal you are considering.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • If your teenager wants or needs a job, suggest looking into local animal hospitals, veterinary clinics, shelters, and other places that care for animals. Many of these organizations need kennel assistance or administrative work that can be done by a young person.
    • If you are considering getting a pet, take into consideration your teenager’s plans after high school. It could be that you will end up caring for this animal for a long time.
  • If your teenager is passionate about animals, encourage her or him to consider education or career paths that involve animals when she or he considers post-high school opportunities. There are many.

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