Jessica’s daughter, Lucy has been begging to get a pet.

Lucy has spent time researching “best family dogs” and “best dogs for children” on the internet.  She has even compiled a list of “why you should adopt a pet” and has been sharing it with her friends.

Jessica and her husband both grew up with a dog and know the love and companionship a pet can give a child.  They are tempted to get a pet, but are also aware of how much time a dog needs to be trained, groomed and taken care of on a daily basis.

Jessica would love to let Lucy pick out the dog of her dreams, but is just not sure if it is the right time since each family member’s schedule is so hectic.

If your children want a pet, they may whine or nag, thinking you will finally give in.  As a parent, you know what a big responsibility owning a pet can be and you may dig in your heels more, if you think the extra responsibility may fall on your shoulders if the children don’t follow through with their commitments. 

Parents and children need to think – – and act – – maturely, by understanding children’s desires and resolving concerns in a way that builds trust and confidence in each other.

Start to build this trust by having a discussion with your children to find out why they want a pet and express your concerns about having a pet in the home.   Then brainstorm ideas and allow each family member to write down the pros and cons of owning a pet and what it would mean to each person.

Here is a list of some things you may want to consider before making a final family decision:

  • A family member is allergic to pet hair. Solution: Have the children do a research on the best dogs for children with allergies and choose a dog breed like a Bichon Frise, which is supposed to be hypo-allergenic, or a pet that doesn’t have hair. It’s hard to play catch with a turtle, but your family’s health must come first.
  • Pets are expensive. Solution: get an inexpensive pet. Fish cost less than dogs, once you have an aquarium. Suggest doing chores for neighbors or relatives to earn money to help pay for the pet.
  • Things might not work out. Solution: No one can guarantee a perfect pet, but if you learn about different breeds and consider temperaments, the pet’s parents or why it’s in a shelter, you can find a good match. Proper training can also correct many pet behavior problems.  So if your children want a dog, give them the responsibility to research and compile a list of the best family dogs and give the reasons each made it on the list. You can also ask about the return policy of the people from whom you buy the pet. They usually want the pet to go to a home where it will be well taken care of and is a good match, so most offer 7-30 day returns.
  • Parents think they will do most of the work, even if children promise to do it. Solution: Get agreements from the children ahead of time that they will be committed to taking on 100% of the pet’s care and responsibilities when they are home.

If this last reason is your main argument for not getting a family pet, let children know they can prove themselves worthy:

  • Suggest a “pre-pet” test:
    • Have them set a timer for feeding, walking and playing times. This activity is a way of teaching responsibility and giving children independence. Have them see how often the timer goes off, and get an idea of the time and energy it takes to care for a pet.
    • Ask if your family can be a “foster parent” for your local pet adoption center, where pets stay with families during the week and return on weekends for adoption.
    • Pet sit for relatives or neighbors or regularly walk and play with neighborhood dogs. Children should be older than twelve to do this and parents should know the neighbor and pets involved.
  • Encourage children to learn what is involved with feeding, exercising and caring for a pet.  Have children show they are responsible by taking on one daily chore and remembering to do it without being reminded. Suggest they join 4-H, where they can learn how to groom and train a pet. It only costs a few dollars and their projects will ensure good pet care.

You can ask your children to research various breeds experts say are the best family dogs, best dogs for children or why you should adopt a pet instead of get one from the pet shop.  If children take the time to gather facts, think about each family member’s needs, brainstorm possible solutions, and write out a plan, then they must really want a pet!  Keep in mind that children who are involved in making decisions and brainstorming solutions are more likely to follow through with the commitments they make.

Even if children do all that is listed, your answer might still be “No and that’s final!” If so, you may consider letting the children do some of those “pre-pet” activities to get their pet fix.

As a pet-lover, I wish every child could experience having a pet and every pet lived in a loving, caring home. In reality, each family has to make a personal decision that meets everyone’s needs, including the pet’s. I hope you find a solution that works for your family.

To learn more about effective communication and problem solving strategies for families, take the 30-Days to Parenting Success Course. You will be less frustrated, respond more calmly and feel more confident in any parenting situation.

The best part is the 30-Day Course is free!  So what are you waiting for?  Sign up now!

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Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. Currently, she hosts the Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist for Chic Mom magazine. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, http://www.parentstoolshop.org/ 

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