Most kids beg for unusual pets at some point. It could be a reptile, rodent or exotic animal. It might even be a mythical creature! In addition to cats, dogs, parakeets, hamster and guinea pigs, a few unusual pets passed through my house as a child. I had a tiny turtle, hermit crabs and a baby goat. (While adorable, we quickly learned baby goats do not make great house pets! Billy was soon relocated to a nearby farm.)
Before you immediately say no to that snack, rat or unicorn, use the request as a way to bond and learn with your child. Here are some questions to ask.
Why do you want this pet? Maybe it’s just because Dora the Explorer has a cool monkey pal, but perhaps your child has a deeper interest in the animal. Asking open ended questions is a great way to expand your communication and deepen your relationship.
What do you know about it? They may already know a lot about the animal and will likely be excited to share the info with you. If they haven’t gotten that far yet, you can learn about it together. Some things to research include:
- Where is its native environment?
- What kind of climate does it like?
- What does it eat?
- How large of a habitat does it need?
- Does it require anything special (such as bamboo or a large body of water)?
- Is it dangerous?
- How much does it cost and what type of maintenance is required?
What’s your plan for caring for it? This is a great opportunity to talk about responsibility. Your child may opt out on their own once they find out how much work it would be to care for an exotic pet. The conversation is a great way to access how willing and able your child is to pitch in.
How do you think it will fit into our family? This a good question for working logic and communication skills. For example, it’s important to consider if the animal is prey or predator. Would it try to eat baby sister or get gobbled up by the family cat?
If unusual pets aren’t in the cards for your family, break the news to your child gently. Start off by saying that you appreciate the thought and research they put into the subject, but a ferret/dolphin/kangaroo/tarantula/etc. isn’t something you’re okay with adding to the household right now, then share the reason. If the animal is too expensive, requires more space than you have, takes too much work, belongs in the wild, is imaginary or just plain creeps you out, explain that to your child. Come up with ways they can still be involved in their interest, such as visiting the species at the zoo or watching YouTube videos.
By stopping yourself from just saying no right off the bat, you’ll learn more about your child. They’ll feel respected (even if you say no in the end).