It’s easy to see why children love pets so much. Not only are they usually close to the same size, but the cute little critters also remind them of their favorite stuffed animals in motion. What’s not to love?
Whether you had pets in your home prior to Baby’s arrival or you’re considering a four-legged addition to the family, it’s important to teach your child about proper behavior toward animals in order for them to live together without incident.
Here are some tips to help your child and your pet to get off on the right foot (and paw).
Set a good example
You may come downstairs one morning to find your favorite pillow torn to shreds, but remember, children tend to echo what they hear. Before you shout, “bad dog!” it can be an opportunity to encourage Baby to help you tidy up the mess. This can help teach them about the responsibility involved in caring for a pet. In quiet moments, you can show Baby how to pet Meowser by getting down to a feline level and gently stroking her fur. Let Baby know your pets prefer a soft, soothing voice. It may take a little while for Baby to start to remember to use gentle hands and gentle words every time, but the sooner you start out teaching them nice pet-manners, the more instinctive they’ll eventually be.
Implement safety rules
Even the sweetest, most gentle animals have their breaking points, so it’s important to teach Baby safety rules early on to avoid any incidents between them and your pet. This becomes more and more important the more mobile Baby becomes. If Baby is allowed to chase after your pet, to surprise him, or to antagonize him in any way, it can lead to a strained relationship, or even a dangerous situation. For example, a pet may start to feel afraid of Baby and lash out defensively. And regardless of how good-natured an animal is, it’s important to never leave your child and your pet together unattended.
Let your child help
Involving Baby in your pet’s care is a great way for them to learn to care for your furriest friend. You can help them get involved by asking them if they'd like to help fill the pet’s food bowl or water dish, for example. Part of why your pets love you is because you care for them, and if they see Baby assisting in their care, those feelings can start to extend to Baby as well.
The timing of “who came first” will be important in the developing friendship between your child and your pet. If your pet was in the home prior to Baby’s arrival, Rover may start to feel a little territorial, or even neglected due to less attention. This can be solved by working to show the pet that Baby is not a threat, but another member of the family.
If you are considering adding a pet to the family for the first time, on the other hand, you may find it helpful to check a few books out of the library that promote caring for animals. Even just picture books that show other children caring for and loving their pets can help to give Baby a framework for the new experience they are going to have. If you think Baby would do better with a little hands-on experience before meeting the newest member of your household, you might also consider a trip to a farm to get Baby used to animals first-hand. With a little time and a lot of encouragement, they will find a friend in your pet, and your pet will love Baby right back.