Dogs, cats, chickens, hamsters

I considered myself a lucky kid. I grew up on a farm with lots of space for animals. Pets were just a normal part of life. The fish, turtles, and hamsters shared our home. The cats occupied the back steps while the chickens and dogs roamed the yard.  They were our companions and playmates. It was never a question if we were old enough to have a pet; they just kept coming!

But for most parents these days, the question of when to get a child a pet is worth some discussion. One point for consideration is what is your purpose for having the pet. Is it for companionship and play? Or do you want your child to take responsibility for part or all of it’s care?

Let’s start at the beginning. Babies aren’t old enough to handle or take care of pets. Toddlers want to touch and grab pets. As the kids grow into the preschool age years, they are able to better understand how to handle a pet and fill the water and food dishes. I suspect that the “I wanna dog” (or whatever) gene really kicks in during the elementary years.

The good news is that school-age kids are old enough to assume some pet chores and can play with the pets responsibly. The bad news is that this age children may have short attention spans and change their minds often. So that dog wanted now may be not so much fun three months later. Preteens and teens have the capabilities to be responsible. But they are also getting into the “busy” years and pets will have to compete for their time.

No matter your decision as to when to add a pet to your family, realize that  as the parent you have the final responsbility for its care and well-being.

Note: Check out the ASPCA web site for some good thoughts about the right pet for your child’s age.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Why did you do that? I don’t know.

I could not begin to guess how many times I’ve asked one of my children or grandchildren “Why did you do that?” And the usual answer is “I don’t know.” While that may push one of my buttons, it is likely a truthful answer.

I learned a new phrase when listening to the podcast – executive functioning. That is the part of the brain last to develop and it has to do with reasoning, decision making, and assessing risks. Executive functioning is not well developed in preteens and teens. Well, that may not be “new” news to you but now you know the” why” behind some of your child’s behavior.

Don’t we all remember some of the stupid and dangerous things we did as preteens and teens? And do you cringe to think your child might be making some of the same choices? As parents we don’t have to just wait it out with fingers crossed until the teens grow up and the brains are more fully developed.

The experts in the podcast have two suggestions on how we can be engaged parents and help our children.

  1. If you are present and involved prior to your child making a decision, you can help her stop and think through the consequences. What will happen if I do this? What will happen if I do that?
  2. If you become involved after the fact, there is still an opportunity for learning. Talk with your child about the consequences of his action and why this perhaps wasn’t the best decision.

In simple words – we have multiple teaching and learning opportunities.  Do you have examples to share from your youth or with your child that show undeveloped executive functioning? How did you help turn it into a learning situation?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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