Posted by: Brigitte Rozario Post(s) by this blogger
Most children want pets - a cute kitten or a fluffy rabbit. But not all parents want pets in their home because of health and cleanliness issues as well as who will really end up taking care of the pet. Should a child have a pet?
Let's see what one parent and one psychologist have to say about it.
Chow Ai Ling (not her real name), mother of three aged between three and seven:
My children have asked me for a pet. The eldest one wants a puppy. I think it's because they see other children have pets and they want one too.
I tell them that they are still small.
I myself didn't have any pets when I was a child. But that's not why I don't want my children to have pets now. Mainly it is because my youngest child is allergic to dust and fur. When she is near a lot of fur or dust, she starts coughing and develops a rash. Sometimes she even gets phlegmy.
We found out about her allergy when the doctor informed us that she could be allergic to dust and asked us to try minimising the stuffed toys around her. When we did that, we noticed that she seemed to be better.
So, although having a pet is good for children because it teaches them to take care of another living thing, I think this is not the right time for my children.
They already have too many things and toys to occupy themselves with now and they're still a bit young.
They will just have to wait until they are older and the youngest isn't allergic anymore. When they are older they will be more ready for that responsibility as well. If we get a pet now, I will be the one who ends up looking after the pet instead of them.
I think when the youngest is about seven years old, we can think about getting a pet, but again we'll have to see how her allergy is then.
Cheong Sau Kuan, lecturer and clinical psychologist at Sunway University College:
Cheong Sau Kuan
There are a lot of things you can learn from animals such as responsibility and the different stages of development as well.
In terms of responsibility you have to look at the age of the child and the responsibility should be appropriate for their age level. For example, if you have a three-year-old child, you might want to start with just asking the child to feed the pet. You can help by pouring out the food and helping them put it in the fish tank or the hamster's cage. As they get older they can take on more responsibility and by the time they are about seven or eight years old, they can really take care of the animal all by themselves.
Some parents do get their child a pet and say it's the child's responsibility to take care of the pet completely on their own. But the child is not prepared to do that and that's when they make a mess of it. So, you have to give them the responsibility gradually.
There are many other things that they can learn from having a pet. For example, you also learn the many developmental stages in life as the pet grows from baby to adult to elderly.
And when the animal gets sick you have to explain to the child what happens when they get sick. That's the time when you have to prepare the child in the eventuality that the animal dies.
We find that having pets is a very good way to teach children about bereavement, even at a very young age.
If you have a hamster, whose lifespan is short, you can teach children a lot of things within that short time.
On top of that it is also a good opportunity for you to teach children about sex education to a certain extent. If you have two hamsters and you're thinking of mating them, it's an opportunity for you to tell them the hamster is pregnant, what is pregnancy, how long the gestation period is and how you prepare for the babies.
This process can help prepare your child for the arrival of a baby brother or sister.
We also notice that having pets helps with social emotional development. Children learn social skills from handling animals. When you bond with the animal and pat the animal, that teaches the child to be gentle when they play with their friends. All this is actually part of social skills. And, the animal is very comforting to children, especially when they are going through troubled times.
We also notice that if the family travels a lot, you will see that the bond between the animal and the child will become stronger. When they meet new people and want to make new friends, then the pet becomes a vessel to make new friends. It gives them something to talk about.
If parents are concerned about health issues because of the fur, they can adopt pets which are not so furry for example fish.
If you find that due to health reasons or issues with caring for the animal, it's too much for the child, then get an animal which is smaller and easier for them to care for. It is still a pet; it just functions differently. Start with an animal that is low maintenance, especially for younger children and also for parents who do not have much time.
Or if you don't mind a pet that's slightly small but still furry then you can get a hamster, specifically the Golden Hamster which is larger than the Dwarf Hamster. It is easier to handle and eventually calmer and better for children as compared to Dwarf Hamsters which are very edgy and difficult to train. Golden Hamsters, which are bigger, are easier to handle.