Are you considering getting your child a feline companion, but you’re not sure if he or she is quite ready for the commitment?
Pets can help teach children important values and life lessons. A new kitten may be the right companion for your child, but the decision needs to be carefully considered. A new pet is a commitment, not a possession, and it is important that you explain this to your child. “It should never be decided for your own pleasure or enjoyment,” says educational psychologist Cindy McDonald. “It should rather be based on the fact that you want to improve the life of an animal by giving him a good and loving home.” All kids, regardless of age, need guidance when looking after a pet. A very young child may be unable to feed the cat on her own or change the litter tray, but you should also expect to oversee all aspects of the pet’s care even if your child is able to do these chores by herself. The ultimate responsibility for the animal lies with you – food bills, vet bills and day-to-day care. “No harm will come to a child who has to wait a few years to get a pet, but much harm has come to pets who are given to children who are not yet mature enough to take care of them,” says Cindy.
Questions to ask
Can you answer ‘yes’ to the following questions?
- Are you willing to supervise your child and take responsibility for the cat’s care?
- Do you rent your property or live in a complex? Do they allow cats?
- Most cats like to live indoors and have space outdoors. Are you happy with the cat in the house?
- Is anyone in your home allergic to cats?
- Can you afford quality food and healthcare costs?
- Do you know about cats and what care they require?
- Are you willing to learn more about cats, their behaviour and how they communicate?
- Do you know about cat litter, the different types and how often the tray should be cleaned?
- If you go on holiday and don’t have anyone to care for your cat, can you afford the cost of a cattery?
- Are you prepared for responsibility, commitment and care of your cat well into old age?
What kitty can teach your child
A pet can teach your child some valuable life lessons.
Commitment – how you make the decision to adopt or purchase a new pet will show your child how important it is to consider all aspects of a situation before making an important decision.
Responsibility – animals who live with humans rely on them for nourishment, shelter and healthcare. Your child will learn the importance of responsibility, not only for one’s animals but also for possessions and behaviour.
Patience – teaching your kitten how to use her litter tray or the cat flap will show your child that patience and commitment are often needed to achieve a goal.
Confidence – being in charge of feeding the kitten and grooming her can help even a very young child feel more confident in her abilities.
Compassion and respect – growing up with animals helps kids learn to respect all living things and feel compassion and empathy towards them.
The cycle of life – learning about new life with a kitten and then later coping with loss when a beloved pet passes on.
The right age
There is no ‘magic’ age when your child suddenly becomes ready for the commitment of a pet, but there are a few signs that she is maturing and ready to take on more responsibilities. “The ability to take responsibility for herself without continual reminders from the parent is a good sign,” notes Cindy. “Doing things like homework, personal hygiene practices and simple chores around the house without being nagged by Mom or Dad is a start. If a child does not take her dirty glass to the kitchen without being reminded, there is little chance that she will clean the cat’s litter box without a fuss.”
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If you have other pets at home – a family dog, an aquarium, a bird – watch how your child reacts to this pet. Does she play with the pet? Notice if the water bowl is empty? Fill up the bird’s food without your prodding? Awareness of an animal’s needs is a good sign that your child may be ready to take ownership of a cat. Responsibility does not stop with food, water and shelter, but includes the way your child treats animals. Toddlers may not be able to distinguish between a new pet and a toy, so it is essential to guide your child on how to treat animals with respect. There is nothing more tempting to a toddler than yanking a long, fluffy tail. Parents should be strict about not having their children hurt any animal. When you and your child are ready to welcome a new kitten into your home, you can be sure that the bond will grow to be a strong one.