Children are often enchanted by animals and they’re keen to play with the cute and cuddly creatures that populate their story books. But just because they are young and inexperienced doesn’t mean they can be allowed to mistreat family pets. And of course, the safety of your children is of the utmost importance, as well. If you fail to teach your kids how to interact with animals in a safe and appropriate manner, you risk both pets and kids. You can ensure that your children learn to love animals rather than fear them and that they enjoy the benefits that come with the companionship pets provide, a byproduct of proper care. But first you’ll have to teach them how to safely interact with animals in general. Here are just a few rules that should help to keep both kids and pets safe.
Be gentle. A child’s first instinct may be to grab at a fuzzy puppy or kitten, thinking it is like any of their plush toys that they can squeeze and love and drag hither and yon, so the first lesson you need to teach them is gentle interaction. This means no grabbing of ears, tails, or any other part of the animal, and no pulling, either. They need to understand that they are bigger and stronger than most household pets, and as a result they can hurt or crush animals, something they would surely feel bad about. And while your kids are small, they probably shouldn’t try to lift or carry pets, either. When children learn to play with pets in a safe and gentle way, you will raise lifelong steward that treat animals with love and respect.
Avoid strange or wild animals. It’s easy for kids to mistake raccoons or squirrels in the yard for the much more amiable dogs and cats in your house, which is to say, they may not realize that wild animals are likely to hurt them if they treat them like pets and approach. Of course, you also need to make it clear to your kids that they should steer clear of pets they don’t know. If they see a dog on the street for example, or barking at a neighbor’s fence, they need to understand that the unknown animal could be dangerous.
Wash hands after playing with pets. It doesn’t matter how clean you keep your pets, most of them still run in the dirt, collect parasites, and lick their own nether regions. For this reason it’s important to train your kids to wash their hands after handling animals. And you should probably warn them about letting pets lick their faces or any cuts or abrasions they may have.
Adult supervision. Although you may trust both your pets and your kids, it’s probably best if you don’t leave young children unattended with animals. All it takes is one pull of the tail and a dog could turn aggressive and bite, through no real fault of his own. Since you’re the responsible adult, the blame for an accident or injury would lie with you.
Feeding and care. The best way to help your kids understand the power and responsibility associated with pets is to start teaching them to care for animals as soon as they’re old enough to leave the play yard. Even toddlers can assist you with feeding and grooming tasks, and the more they help out, the better they will learn to behave in a safe and appropriate manner where pets are concerned.