No matter if you have animals at home or not, it’s still important for children to learn appropriate interactions with them. From hamsters to birds to dogs to cats, all animals will vary in their behavior and temperament when it comes to children. It’s good to teach them the basics on compassion and basic handling as young as you can. You’ll never know when the first animal interaction will pop up!

Be Gentle

Being gentle when interacting with any type of animal is always number one. Instill in your young child the importance of gentle touching, and if the animal is moving away, to try and leave the animal alone. This is sometimes a hard subject to teach, especially when children are very eager to pet and interact with new animals. But this is a great way to show children that animals aren’t the same as stuffed toys, and that a gentler approach is necessary to make friends. This will help them build stronger bonds with any pets you may get in the future, or while you’re visiting pet-friendly homes. Even showing and teaching how to let the pet come to them first is a super important life lesson as well, albeit a little more difficult to instill. Children pick up a lot from how you interact with others, so keep this in mind when you visit your pet-friendly family and friend’s homes. 

Basic Handling

Every pet is going to react differently to a small child, making it both easier and more difficult for your kids. If at one home, a dog is obsessed with your child and loves all the attention, it may be hard for your child to understand why the dog at the second home wants nothing to do with them. This is a great way to explain how people and animals work, including emotions and social cues. Teaching them the importance of the pet coming to them first will make these interactions easier, as some of the more shy or introverted pets may come out for attention after all. 

Teach your children about petting animals in a smooth, fluid motion to avoid any of them getting irritated and leaving. Pets on the body and sometimes the belly are appropriate, while it’s usually a good idea to avoid the head, at least at first. Not sticking their hands or face into the pet’s face is a great lesson to teach, as children can get injured this way. It’s also important to teach them to not approach animals from behind or where they may startle easily. Petting and not grabbing fur will also help the pets from not leaving or getting upset at your child. Show them how to interact with the pets without touching them, such as playing fetch or playing with a cat using a wand toy. This can help them establish a relationship with the pet before tying to touch them. 

No matter your child’s age, there’s always something to learn about properly interacting with animals. If your child is scared of the pets, it’s also a fantastic opportunity to slowly introduce them and show that they aren’t a threat. Children can gain many social and life skills from interacting with pets, thus it’s important to teach them the basics!   

Katie Kyzivat