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I think being responsible for a pet is a tremendous opportunity for educational, social, and emotional growth.

It is also a big step, and not one to be taken lightly.

How do you determine if a child is ready to be responsible for the well-being of a living creature?

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I think a parent just has to make that call based on what they know of their own child. One suggestion I'd have is to start small: Fish. Maybe a hamster. – DA01 Feb 18 '13 at 19:37
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Our kids were born with cats already in the house, which has made it straightforward for us, but what we did was:

  • let them cuddle the cats from a very early age - 6 or 7 months
  • start to let them put out a food or water bowl (from 2 or 3 years old)
  • brushing the cat's fur from about 3 years old with supervision (just so they weren't too rough)
  • let the cat in in the morning (ie unlocking the door and putting a food bowl out) from 5 years old
  • change the litter tray from 9 or 10

We have a friend with two extremely large labradors, and my youngest at 6 is an excellent dog walker; much more confident than the elder two, which means the dogs behave really well for her.

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I guess it depends on the type of animal and the child's age.

First determine what kind of involvement you would expect from the child: feed the pet daily? Clean the litter? Walk the animal? And then try to give the child a responsibility with the same type of involvement. For example, if you expect the child to feed the animal daily, then have the child perform a daily task. This will give you a good indication as to whether the child can handle the responsibilities that come with having a pet.

Also discuss with the child how they would like to be involved with the animal, and what the child is willing to commit to. If children feel they are involved in the decision, they may put their heart into it more.

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