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.”
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.” Responsibility does not stop with food, water and shelter, but includes the way your child treats animals.
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?
- Can you afford quality food and healthcare costs?
- Do you know about cats and what care they require?
- Do you know about cat litter, the different types and how often the tray should be cleaned?
- 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.
Text: Gail Smith