Pets and kids are well matched. Pets are fun for kids and kids are fun for—most—pets. Time spent with a pet can provide a child with the type of inimitable experience that he or she will hopefully carry all through his or her adulthood. But there are reasons to be cautious: pets don’t always understand the innocent energies of children and children don’t always understand the innocent energies (or lack thereof) of pets.
Children don’t read animal behavior well; adult supervision is important between the two. A child should be taught how to handle a pet, taught to treat the pet with respect and love. Don’t let children pull a dog’s ears, or drag the cat along the floor by its tail. Anxiety can develop between a child and pet when one or both of them doesn’t understand the other’s behavior. However, the rules between a pet and a child should be very basic, and a child should never be asked to discipline a pet. Again, because children don’t read pet behavior well, they don’t need to be responsible for the pet’s behavior. When a dog is chewing something he or she shouldn’t be chewing or when a cat decides to sleep atop a kitchen counter where they know they shouldn’t be, the child should be taught to come to you—tattle tailing is fine when it’s a pet! What a child can be taught is how to prevent bad behaviors that directly affect the child. For instance, a rambunctious puppy may choose to jump up on a child to play, even though he or she knows that’s not allowed. A child should be taught the command and the preferred reaction—in the case of the jumping puppy a child can push the puppy back down while also giving the puppy the command to get down. This establishes the people-animal rules for the child, who the pet may view more as a playmate than a person.
Kids and pets are made for each other. If you are bringing a pet into your family’s home for the first time, or you are bringing a child into an already established pet’s home, remember to supervise.