Your 6-year-old comes to you and says he needs more meaning and direction in his life – just the sort of thing a pet can provide. Then comes the begging and the bargaining.
But what sort of pet is appropriate at his age, and how much responsibility should he undertake? Fortunately, there is a wide world of potential pets that can help answer those questions.
No matter what pet you choose, recognize that the parent is ultimately responsible for the health and well being of the animal. A child's interests can swirl like a leaf in a strong breeze; but the pet still requires daily care and love.
Consider your child's age and emotional development. Although they don't intend harm, a preschooler can injure a pet by playing rough. You may want a pet that is interesting, but cannot be handled by your child unless you're present.
If your child is under 6, consider these animals to begin with: Guinea pig
Small birds, such as budgies
Rabbits should not be given to young children as pets. They can grow to be quite temperamental. In addition, they are usually active at night or in the morning, when children are usually asleep or in school. Reptiles are also not good choices for pets because children under 6 are more susceptible to contracting salmonella.
You can give your child some age-appropriate responsibilities in caring for the pet. They might clean food or water bowls, or help clean cages once you have safely removed the occupant.
When they have shown responsibility for caring for a smaller pet, you may want to graduate to a dog or cat. But always remember, though it may be his or her "pet," the parent is always responsible for making sure the animal is well cared for.
Older children have a wide range of options to choose from. To learn about these many choices, see Pros and Cons of Pet Types for Kids.