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Caring for a pet can help children learn about responsibility, compassion and kindness - all rewarding additions to their development. Children who are responsible for helping often grow to love the creatures in their care.

Pets that interact, such as dogs and cats, offer a chance for a special bond to grow between the animal and a child. Children may find caring for small animals, such as hamsters and gerbils, especially rewarding.Choosing the Right Pet

Laying the groundwork and making a few decisions before a pet is adopted can help smooth the animal's entry into the household. And long before the pet is brought home, parents should discuss with their child the chores required to care for the animal.

Parents must make the final decision regarding the type of animal best suited to the family's lifestyle and financial resources. But, if possible, children should be involved in helping to select a family pet.

Family members with allergic reactions to other substances should be tested for a possible allergy to the animal before the pet is selected. This can help reduce the odds that a new pet will have to be removed from the home.

Pet Care

Children make mistakes, so it's important for parents to take part in pet care. A young child may be able to assume responsibility for feeding, changing water dishes or filling a water bottle. Older children may be able to handle more involved tasks, such as walking a dog or cleaning the animal's cage.

Adults must be prepared to gently but firmly correct any inappropriate behavior toward an animal, such as pulling the animal's tail. Correcting this behavior teaches a child to treat the animal gently and kindly - and may help the child learn to be kind and considerate to others.

A preschooler can interact with a pet, but an adult should supervise the child and the pet at all times.

For children who feel rejected by their peers, the unconditional love of a pet can be restorative. The animal doesn't take the place of a friend (or a caring adult), but the affection provided by a pet reinforces the feeling that a youngster is valued and loved.