The National Parenting Center

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Picking and giving pets

Pets can be wonderful for kids, providing companionship and great learning experiences. Dogs and cats are most common, but others-birds, fish, rabbits, gerbils and other rodents-are popular too. The advantage of having a dog or cat is that, with a little luck, it can be a companion and playmate to your child for many years. Hold off on acquiring a pet for a young child who is showing signs of asthma or allergies-pet hair often exacerbates these conditions.

If you have the child before you get the pet, do a little research, to be sure you get the animal that best suits your family. Topping your list of requirements, if you’re considering a dog or cat, should be gentleness and patience. For example, hounds, retrievers and spaniels are often good with children, while chows, terriers and German shepherds don’t have that reputation (though obviously there are many exceptions). Whichever has come first-the pet or the baby-may need a little help in adjusting to the presence of the other.

• Bring home a blanket or diaper you’ve put into your baby’s hospital bassinet and let the dog or cat that’s already part of your family get used to the baby’s scent before homecoming day.

• Pay extra attention to your pet if you’re introducing a new baby into your household, or if the pet is a stray whose background you don’t know about.

• Help your child learn to pat your dog or cat softly in the appropriate places and to play gently.

• Remember that puppies like to chew, just as babies do, and that their teeth are very sharp. Without intending to, your new pet can hurt your baby.

• Teach your child not to tease a pet or disturb one that is eating or sleeping.

• Be grateful if your child likes animals and is not afraid of pets in the neighborhood, but do teach him or her to use caution with strange dogs and cats-not all are friendly, even to friendly kids. A child should ask the owner before petting an unknown dog or cat.

• Watch your own pet around other children. It’s not unusual for a dog, especially, to want to “protect” a child or to be less tolerant of one outside the family than within it.

Pests such as fleas and even some illnesses can be transferred from pets to human beings, so you’ll want to establish good hygiene habits. Keep your pet clean, take a young one for routine checkups with the veterinarian and keep its immunizations up to date.

Vicki Lansky’s practical, common sense approach to parenting is familiar to millions throughout the world. Vicki’s first book, Feed Me, I’m Yours, published in 1974, and still one of the most popular baby/toddler food cookbooks in the country, was followed by The Taming of the C.A.N.D.Y. Monster, a #1 New York Times bestseller. Her other titles include: Toilet Training, Birthday Parties Best Party Tips & Ideas For Ages 1-8, Dear Babysitter Handbook, Welcoming Your Second Baby, Getting Your Child to Sleep … and Back to Sleep, Trouble-free Travel with Children, Baby Proofing Basics and Games Babies Play From Birth to Twelve Months, Koko Bear’s New Potty, A New Baby at Koko Bear’s House, Koko Bear and the New Babysitter, and Koko Bear’s Big Earache. Vicki Lansky’s Divorce Book for Parents: Helping Children Cope with Divorce and Its Aftermath


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