PETS AND CHILDREN choosing a pet
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  21. Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part I: How Medications Are Used
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  24. Know When to Seek Help for Your Child
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  29. Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part II: Types of Medications
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  32. 11 Questions to Ask Before Psychiatric Hospital Treatment of Children and Adolescents
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  37. Children and Firearms
  38. Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depressive Illness) in Teens
  39. Children of Parents with Mental Illness
  40. The Influence of Music and Music Videos
  41. Substance Abuse Treatment for Children and Adolescents: Questions to Ask
  42. The Continuum of Care
  43. Discipline
  44. Children and Lying
  45. Lead Exposure
  46. Home Alone Children
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  48. Problems with Soiling and Bowel Control
  49. Schizophrenia in Children
  50. Panic Disorder in Children and Adolescents
  51. Psychiatric Medications for Children and Adolescents Part III: Questions to Ask
  52. Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation
  53. What is Psychotherapy For Children and Adolescents?
  54. Children and Watching TV
  55. Understanding Violent Behavior in Children & Adolescents
  56. Parenting: Preparing for Adolescence
  57. Normal Adolescent Development - Middle School and Early High School Years
  58. Normal Adolescent Development - Late High School Years and Beyond
  59. Children Online
  60. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children and Adolescents
  61. Children and Sports
  62. Talking to Your Kids About Sex
  63. Gay And Lesbian Adolescents
  64. Foster Care
  65. Children's Threats: When are they serious? 
  66. Helping Teenagers with Stress
  67. Children and The News
  68. Tobacco and Kids
  69. Asperger's Disorder
  70. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  71. Multiracial Children
  72. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  73. Self-Injury in Adolescents
  74. Advocating for Your Child
  75. Pets and Children
  76. Helping Your Teen Become a Safe Driver
  77. Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
  78. When a Pet Dies
  79. Obesity in Children and Teens
  80. Bullying #80
PETS AND CHILDREN

Pets are part of many children's lives. Parental involvement, open discussion, and planning are usually necessary to help make pet ownership a positive experience for everyone. A child who learns to care for an animal, and treat it kindly and patiently, gets invaluable training in learning to treat people the same way. Careless treatment of animals is unhealthy for both the pet and the child involved.

Choosing an Appropriate Pet

While all kinds of pets can bring children pleasure, it is important to choose a pet that is right for your family, your home, and your lifestyle; and one that your child can help care for. Parents should be cautious about having aggressive animals as pets. Remember, even trained and domesticated animals can be aggressive. Also, exotic and unusual animals may be difficult to care for and should be considered carefully.

Caring for a Pet

Taking care of a pet can help children develop social skills. However, certain guidelines apply:

  • Since very young children (under the age of 3-4 years) do not have the maturity to control their aggressive and angry impulses, they should be monitored with pets.
  • Young children (under 10 years) are rarely able to care for a large animal, a cat or a dog, on their own.
  • Parents must oversee the pet's care even if they believe their child is old enough to care for a pet.
  • If children become lax in caring for a pet, parents may have to take over the responsibility on their own.
  • Children should be reminded in a gentle, not scolding way, that animals, like people, need food, water, and exercise.
  • If a child continues to neglect a pet, a new home may have to be found for the animal.
  • Parents serve as role models. Children learn responsible pet ownership by observing their parents' behavior.

Advantages of Pet Ownership

Children raised with pets show many benefits. Developing positive feelings about pets can contribute to a child's self-esteem and self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy. Pets can serve different purposes for children:

  • They can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts--children often talk to their pets, like they do their stuffed animals.
  • They provide lessons about life; reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement.
  • They can help develop responsible behavior in the children who care for them.
  • They provide a connection to nature.
  • They can teach respect for other living things.
Other physical and emotional needs fulfilled by pet ownership include:
  • Physical activity
  • Comfort contact
  • Love, loyalty, and affection
  • Experience with loss if a pet is lost or dies.

Although most children are gentle and appropriate with pets, some may be overly rough or even abusive. If such behavior persists, it may be a sign of significant emotional problems. Any child who abuses, tortures or kills animals should be referred to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for a comprehensive evaluation.

For more information see Facts for Families: #24 Know When to Seek Help for Your Child, #25 Know Where to Seek Help for Your Child, and #52 Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation. See also: Your Child (1998 Harper Collins)/Your Adolescent (1999 Harper Collins).

 

Article #75 Updated 03/00

All Family Resources wishes to thank the (AACAP) for giving us permission to use this article.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) represents over 6,900 child and adolescent psychiatrists who are physicians with at least five years of additional training beyond medical school in general (adult) and child and adolescent psychiatry.

Facts for Families is developed and distributed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Facts sheets may be reproduced for personal or educational use without written permission, but cannot be included in material presented for sale. To order full sets of FFF, contact Public Information, 1.800.333.7636.  Free distribution of individual Facts sheets is a public service of the AACAP Special Friends of Children Fund. Please make a tax deductible contribution to the AACAP Special Friends of Children Fund and support this important public outreach. (AACAP, Special Friends of Children Fund, P.O. Box 96106, Washington, D.C. 20090).
   
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