Before exploring further resources or engaging in the many learning tools available, it’s important to understand and manage expectations at what the child-pet relationships may look like at each phase of a child’s development! Via Best Friends Animal Society, here’s a rough guide to what’s appropriate at what age:
Birth to six months: A quiet time for the child-pet interaction. No small child should be left unsupervised with an animal.
Six months to a year: Keep pet food and feeding areas away from crawling and toddling children. A child of this age will grab at whatever is in his or her path, so ears and tails are a target, and children have to be carefully supervised around animals to avert any unexpected reactions.
1-3 years: A time of exploration and for putting things in the mouth. A dog or cat who is possessive about his or her toys and food can be potentially dangerous to a child. The child is eye level with a medium to large dog, and dogs can see that as a threat. This age group is especially vulnerable to a biting dog.
4-6 years: By now, a child has mastered quite a lot of language and can understand more about how to interact with another living being, but a firm eye on the situation is still needed.
6-10 years: Your child can now help look after a pet – feeding, cleaning up, walking, and playing with a cat or dog or any other animal in the house.
Teens: At some point in the teen years, your child may develop other priorities in his or her life, such as sports, band, boys, girls, existential philosophy, or shopping. Pet-care chores can suddenly and dramatically go onto the back burner. Parental supervision is a must.
18-20 years: Many kids will be moving away from their childhood-homes. You need to be ready for the likelihood that taking care of the animals will revert back to the adults or other children in the family.
Free and Engaging Learning Tools
HSUS’s From Nose to Tail teaches care and compassion for dogs to K-2 and 3-5. These learning lessons explore dog-related human issues, with a focus on puppy mills. This engaging resource is free for download but must be printed or saved to an e-reader as engaging questions and drawing and puzzle activities may be found throughout!
Fear Free Happy Homes features fun, easy-to-implement tips, articles reviewed by board-certified veterinary behaviorists, discounts on pets products and services, downloadable handouts with games, tips and tricks for your pet and the Fear Free directory to find Certified Professionals near you.
Red Rover’s Readers Program and resource page focuses on teaching children empathy for animals through reading, crafting, games and more!
Doggie Drawings promotes humane education via free educational posters which reference cat and dog body language, signals, positive reinforcement training methods and so much more! Download these posters today and be sure to hang them in common areas for all to see!
American Humane’s ‘Pet Meets Baby‘ is a comprehensive guide to pet and child introductions, recognizing stress in pets and improving relationships in the home through appropriate and positive interactions! Don’t let the title fool you – this guide references children of all ages!