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Gloria Price
CENTURY 21 New Millennium

Helping Your Child Adjust to a New Pet

A pet can become a beloved member of the family and a source of fun and companionship for everyone, but especially for children. If you’re planning to have a new pet join your family, the first interactions between the pet and your child are critical.

Tell Your Child What to Expect
Before you bring home a new pet, talk to your child about the type of animal you’re planning to get, its age, typical behavior and anything you know about that particular animal’s background that may affect its behavior, such as a history of abuse or life in a shelter, its age or any medical problems. Discussing these things with your child in advance can help them be sensitive and have reasonable expectations. This can also help the animal avoid feeling overwhelmed and can keep your child from misinterpreting the pet’s behavior and being hurt or disappointed.

Take Things Slow
When you introduce your child to the pet, give the animal some space. It’s better to allow a new pet to approach a child when it feels ready, rather than have it be immediately approached by a child who is eager to pet, play with or hold it. A new pet in an unfamiliar environment may interpret those innocent and well-intended actions as a threat and may run, scratch or bite.

In the first few days or weeks, stay in the room or yard and keep a close watch when your child and the new pet are interacting. Teach your child how to interpret the pet’s body language. Talk about signs that an animal is happy, nervous, angry or fearful so your child will know when to back off. Tell your child if any of his or her behaviors are inappropriate or might be perceived as threatening, or if you think the animal needs some space. Continue to keep a close eye on things until you’re sure that your child and the pet are comfortable with each other.

Fun and Responsibility
Buy some toys and encourage your child to play with the pet. Not only will this help them bond, it’ll also teach your child patience, teach your new pet to obey commands and help them both get some exercise.

Have your child help you take care of the pet. A child of nearly any age can help feed a pet, and a child who is old enough to walk can go with you when you walk a dog. Those who are older can do more involved tasks, such as cleaning a cat’s litter box. Including your child in the pet’s care can go a long way toward teaching responsibility.