7 Ways to Tell if a Child is Old Enough for Pet Responsibilities

Every child wants a pet, but how can you tell when they’re ready for the responsibilities that come with it? Parents can easily fall into the trap of giving in to their child’s earnest pleadings for a puppy. Before too long, however, they might find themselves taking care of the pooch’s every need while their child has lost interest. By taking some time to gauge your child’s readiness for a pet through these seven steps, you can make a confident decision on whether it’s time to head to the pet store or wait a few years.

1. Do Some Research

Unsurprisingly, your child may be completely unaware of the less glamorous parts of taking care of a pet. You can check out books from your local library on your child’s desired pet and learn more about its needs together. Some children are dissuaded from the idea of a pet when they learn they would have to clean up after it!

2. Make an Agreement

Now that you both know what kind of care your desired pet needs, decide what duties your child will be responsible for and discuss with your child whether they feel ready to take them on. Depending on your child’s age, it may even be a good idea to make a contract that outlines their responsibilities. Be sure to think through what the consequences would be if they did not hold up their end of the bargain.

3. Consider their Self-Care

Before you ask if your child is ready to take care of a pet, make sure he can take care of himself! Your expectations should vary according to age but ask yourself if your child is able to perform basic self-care tasks without being reminded or cajoled. Do they brush their teeth every night? If not, you can count on the pet not being fed without your prompting.

4. Check the Chore Chart

Is your child able to not just take care of himself, but contribute to the family as well? Again, the chores that your child is responsible for will depend on his age, but even a three-year-old can empty the bathroom trash can or help put their toys away. If your child often complains about chores or frequently neglects his duties, he is probably not ready to take care of a pet.

5. Observe their Behavior Around Animals

It’s important to gauge whether your child has the emotional maturity to control himself around animals even if he’s excited. If your child has not developed enough self-control to remember and follow safety rules around animals, then you risk someone getting hurt whether it be your child or the pet. Visit a shelter or a friend who has a pet and watch how your child responds. Does he pull a dog’s tail even when you warn him not to? Is he skittish and loud, or is he excited but able to maintain control?

6. Check your Child’s Expectations Against Your Family’s Reality

If your child is dreaming of a Great Dane, but you live in a small apartment, things might not work out. Similarly, if you recently welcomed a baby to the family or are about to move, it may not be wise to take on any pet larger than a goldfish or a gerbil. Children usually have a specific pet in mind. It’s great to have dreams, just make sure your child’s dream pet fits your current reality before committing.

7. Take a Test Run

If you’re still feeling unsure, you can always take a test run! Ask a friend if your child can pet-sit for them while they are out of town. Give your child the duties that you would expect of him if he had his own pet and see how it goes. Your child will get a taste of what it’s really like to care for an animal, and you’ll be able to observe his willingness and responsibility. If you like what you see, you can head to the animal shelter or pet store without any worries, ready to give your child the great experience of owning a pet.

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