There is nothing quite like that feeling when that first puppy arrives. A child never forgets their first pet. A first pet is a little like a first love or a first kiss. There will be many to come. But none will take op that spot in your heart occupied by the first.

However, a pet can also be a disastrous gift for all parties concerned if the child is not ready. A doll is an inanimate object that can be stitched up or even tossed out if it becomes dirty, tattered, or inconvenient. A pet is a living creature with a nervous system able to feel pain and complex emotions that require feedback.

We know there are important life lessons your child can learn from owning a pet. But the student has to be ready for the lesson. We don’t send children to college before they complete grade school. And we don’t give them living creatures to care for before they are ready. Here are some ways you can tell if your child is ready:

Safety First

You must first be sure that your child is safe around animals, and that animals are safe around your child. Some children are allergic to everything. Pets just exacerbate the problem. Very small children often behave in ways that are not safe for small animals. They don’t watch where they step. They play too rough. They have not developed the necessary empathy.

Whether in a pack or as an individual, puppies have to be trackable, especially when supervised by a first-time owner. It is too easy to forget to close the gate or become distracted when out for a walk. 

While you can help with this as a parent, you can’t fix other safety issues. So you have to be sure that your child is of the age and temperament when their safety and the safety of the animal can be ensured.

Chores and Homework

If your child does not get their chores done no matter what you try, you are not going to make things better by adding a pet into the mix. That is because a pet is nothing but chores, at least at the beginning. If a child never makes her bed, don’t expect her to start making her bed and cleaning the cage. 

Even turtles can be a hindrance to homework. They require more maintenance than you might think. And they live for decades. A child that has trouble getting homework done does not need more excuses to shirk responsibility. A pet might make them more responsible. But they need a requisite minimum of responsibility before adding a pet to the mix.

All Good Things Must End

One of the hardest realities of owning a pet is that animals die. We all die. It is difficult to hide that fact from your child. Death is a part of the cycle of life. Your child has to be old enough to deal with that reality. 

Starting with a small pet with limited attachment and a short life expectancy may be a good strategy. The death of that pet will not be the same shock to the system as the death of a dog or cat. 

But regardless of how you introduce it, death is a part of the equation that has to be factored in. Children cannot be sheltered from some realities. And if it is too soon to answer questions about what happened to little Miss Pinkums, then it might be too soon to have a pet. 

There is no perfect equation for picking the perfect moment. But your child is probably a good candidate for a pet if they and small animals are safe with one another, if they are reasonably good about doing their chores and homework, and if they can handle the sad parts as well as the happy parts.