Kids, Two and Four-Legged Alike
by Kimberly Wade
Kids and pets are a natural combination, but there are also some things you can do to help ensure that the relationship is rewarding and safe for both parties. Even if you don’t have a pet or children, basic skills for kids and pets interacting are important. Here are a few tips:
• Teach children how to interact safely with pets. Using a stuffed animal as an example can be a good way to show the right way to stroke a pet and to let them know that tugging on the tail or ears is not OK. Teach them to never put their face directly in the pet’s face or to hug an unfamiliar animal.
• When a new baby is expected, let the pet be a part of setting up the nursery so they can see and smell everything. Bring home the first onesie your child wears so that the pet can smell it in advance of baby coming home. When baby does arrive, remember that dogs and cats don’t understand babies and supervision is essential. Never leave pets and children together unattended.
• Create kid-free and pet-free zones. Even the most energetic pet needs time to chill out and kids will need their own space, too. Show children basic dog or cat language — if you see the tail swishing low and tucked, or ears pinned back, it’s a sign that the pet needs to be left alone. If a pet looks stressed or growls, it’s not a bad thing — don’t punish the pet — it’s a warning sign and means you should separate the two.
• Include kids in the animal care. Have them assist you with feeding and training as it helps to build a bond between the pet and child. Remember the importance of adult supervision as both children and pets are naturally unpredictable.
• Use positive reinforcement. Give plenty of praise for the child when they demonstrate proper behavior, and let the kids reward the pet with treats when they exhibit good behavior. Teach by example — we know kids learn by watching us so expressing gentle affection for the pet will rub off on your children.
• Teach children not to run up to an animal they do not know. If someone is walking a dog, ask if it is all right before approaching. Approach calmly (no fast movements, running or screaming) and allow the dog or cat to sniff your hand. Let the pet initiate the contact. Watch for signs of nervousness in an animal and give the animal space if you see them.
• Finally, actively supervise interactions between children and pets at all times. Kids, especially babies, should never be left alone with any pet. Animals may react to a high-pitched scream, or kids may unintentionally provoke a pet. Supervision is key to ensuring a good relationship with them both.
Animals can offer amazing benefits to children, providing comfort, companionship, learning opportunities and more. We, as adults and parents, have the vital job of teaching all our kids, two- and four-legged alike, how to behave around one another.
Sadly, some people give up their pet when a baby is on the way, but with a little thought and care, introducing children to pets can be the beginning of a beautiful and enriching relationship.
CAPTION: Kimberly Wade and Newton