Prof Dr Alvin Ng
ANN/THE STAR – Having a pet at home can have numerous benefits for the family, including children.
Caring for, and playing with, pets can have a positive influence on kids and contributes to their well-being.
The benefits of having a pet cover a wide range of factors, e.g. mutual unconditional love and acceptance (between the child and pet).
Most importantly, it helps kids develop a sense of care, love, support, acknowledgement and connection.
Having a pet can also provide kids with a positive way to manage stress and learn about responsibility.
Letting your child care for a pet can help him develop self-esteem, self-confidence, compassion and empathy.
Your child’s pet can also become a confidant and help her understand some of life’s more complicated lessons related to reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents and death.
Most of all, having a pet can teach your child to become more independent, proactive and responsible.
The experience of having a pet and caring for it involves a deep process of engagement between your child and the pet in question.
Learning how to care and nurture another living being is a huge responsibility, which allows for development of executive functioning (such as problem-solving, decision-making, planning, organising and critical thinking).
Your child is likely to learn how to:
– Plan and organise activities related to pet care
– Respond to a crisis (for example, when the pet becomes ill, there’s a problem with the pet’s habitat)
– These skills contribute to better resilience and the ability to adapt to life’s challenges, helping him to be more independent.
GETTING THE RIGHT PET
When it’s time to get your child a pet, you need to sit down with her and talk about what type of pet is suitable for her based on factors such as where you live, who you live with or whether anyone has allergies.
As a general guide, these are some points to consider when getting a pet:
HOME AND LIFESTYLE
Firstly, the size of your home limits the size of your pet, and this is especially true for dog lovers (the larger the breed, the more space the dogs will need).
If you happen to live in a small apartment or share a house with other people, this would limit your pet of choice.
TIME AND COMMITMENT
Your family’s lifestyle determines how much time you and your child have to spend on pets.
In general, smaller-sized pets need less attention, so you can use this as a general guide to decide on the type of pet to get.
LEVEL OF RESPONSIBILITY
If the pet will be under your child’s care, you will need to assess his level of responsibility, his capability in caring for the pet, and even the complexity of care that may be required.
Ensure that the added responsibility does not clash with existing ones such as schooling.
If you fail to take these factors into account, the pet’s care will fall back on you as the parent.
The level of care varies from pet to pet, so if it’s your child’s first time caring for one, it’s better to opt for an animal that’s beginner-friendly, such as fish (guppies, betta fish or goldfish), hamsters, guinea pigs or certain species of cats or dogs.
Avoid exotic pets or wild animals as they can be difficult to care for and may bite/scratch their owners.
Certain wild animals are often illegal to keep as pets, such as pangolins or the Indian star tortoise.
Make sure you do your research before heading to the pet store. Just because it’s sold at the store, doesn’t make it right!
Ideally, the final choice should be a pet that you have experience with.
This will allow you to share your own experience in caring for it with your child and thus provide her with proper guidance.
As a bonus, this is also a chance to spend some quality time together.