When it comes to teaching your kids how to act around pets, there are really only two rules to impart: be kind to the animal, and respect the animal. If you stick by these two rules and make them your teaching mantra, you’ll never go wrong.
Teaching Children Love, Kindness and Respect for Animlas
Be Kind to Animals
Even when they’re small, kids can accidentally hurt animals by tugging on their ears or tail. It can be hard for little ones to understand that animals are sensitive in different places than humans are—and sometimes they’re more physically sensitive in general.
Leading by example, help your small kids understand what it means to be gentle when holding a gerbil or petting a rabbit. Use a soft voice when you show your child how to pet the animal—that reinforces both the softness of the moment and also shows how seriously you’re taking the interaction.
If your kids are new to animals, you can start by introducing them to a pet that’s relatively tough. Head to the petting zoo at the state fair to pet the goats and sheep, or let the kids meet a neighbor’s dog. Slowly work your way up to more delicate animals like cats and small rodents. If a cat bites or hisses, let your kids know that it only does this because it’s afraid, uncomfortable, or unhappy. Teach them that if they want the animal to love them, then need to be considerate of its feelings, space, and happiness.
How often have you seen this: a kid hauling a cat around by its middle, oblivious to the cat’s yowls? Kids can seriously hurt pets when they don’t know how to handle them gently. Sometimes they just aren’t coordinated enough to walk a dog on a leash or keep a gecko from falling on the floor. If that’s the case with your kids, it may be time to use the “Four Feet on the Floor” rule.
Four Feet on the Floor
This means that all animals keep four feet on the floor at all times. Pretty simple! And if your kids are small, you’ll find that it avoids a lot of headaches (and pain for your pet). With this rule, kids are allowed to pet animals all they want; they just can’t pick them up. Many animals love to be picked up, but it takes an older person’s sensibility to know when they want that kind of attention and when they don’t. Picking up a cat or dog when it’s in the middle of a nap is not only rude—it isn’t showing much respect for the pet.
In time, your kids will grow old enough to know when it’s appropriate to pick up a pet and when it isn’t. Ideally, they’ll also notice that when they’re kind, gentle, and calm with a pet, the animal shows more interest in them.