Taking care of a pet can be a valuable learning experience for children. Just be sure to choose the right pet for your child and your family. Dogs and cats aren’t the only possibilities. Here’s a look at some other options for animal companionship:
• Fish. Perhaps one of the easiest pets to take care of, fish can provide companionship without a ton of responsibility beyond cleaning their tanks and feeding them. They don’t require much interaction and are a popular starter pet for most children. They don’t take up a lot of room, but you should be careful not to overfeed them.
• Ants/earthworms. If you and your child aren’t easily grossed out, taking care of ants or earthworms could be a good choice. Ideal for outdoorsy and science-oriented kids, ants are quite capable of taking care of themselves. Just be sure to not leave the lid off the container or let it get knocked over. As for earthworms, they’re quite low-maintenance and can be moved to your garden if your child loses interest.
• Rodents. Small mammals such as mice, rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs are excellent pets for those who do not have a great deal of living space. Handle them with care when feeding and exercising them, and clean their cages often. They don’t live for too long, but they are more active at night, when children are home from school.
• Rabbits. While also rodents, rabbits require a different level of care from those previously mentioned. They need a good deal of exercise in and out of their cages. Rabbits also need to be handled with care by their owners and can bite if provoked. They’ll need things to chew on and a roomy cage where they can have their own litter box.
• Birds. Birds such as parakeets or finches can make excellent pets if you make the commitment. Selecting the right kind of bird is key, as their temperament and level of activity should be matched to the family. It can take time to train them, and they can live for several years, so be sure that a bird really fits with your family.
Imaginary playmates are common with young children—studies suggest that 65 percent of children age 7 and younger have had them. Parents sometimes wonder whether they’re a symptom of psychological problems, though. Shouldn’t a well-adjusted child be interacting with real people instead of invisible companions?
Don’t worry. Even though the line between fantasy and reality can be blurry for toddlers, most children are perfectly aware that Mister Bear and Princess Blue-Eyes aren’t real. Imaginary friends can serve a variety of purposes: They can protect children from perceived dangers—a barking dog seems less scary when a child has a pretend lion walking at his or her side. They can also allow children to deal with issues of helplessness and control, allowing them to be in charge: A child who gives an imaginary friend a shot may be working through anxiety about going to the doctor. And they help children entertain themselves, especially after a family move that takes them away from friends and familiar surroundings.
Pretend playmates can help children develop a richer imagination and vocabulary; they can also teach kids how to socialize with their real-life friends. Often they serve as role models for correct behavior (although they can also take the blame for misbehavior).
If your child prefers to play exclusively with a make-believe pal, avoiding interaction with real children, or if he or she uses the pretend playmate to avoid certain situations, you may want to find out whether something serious is going on.
Otherwise, don’t fight it. Pretend play is important to a child’s development, and setting an extra place at the dinner table for Danny the Dinosaur is a small price to pay for your child’s well-being.
Talking to Baby
Talking to children and answering any questions they may throw at you is one of the fundamental ways in which they learn. Talking, however, isn’t just important once youngsters have already mastered basic language skills, but well before they have even uttered their first words.
Human beings aren’t born with language skills, but rather we acquire them gradually from an early age and build on them throughout our lives. Even as very small babies, we begin to learn the art of communication, which means that by constantly talking to your child you can be gradually teaching words and sentence structures, not to mention the things that go along with spoken language, such as facial expressions and gestures. Instead of simply repeating the words “mom” or “dad” to get your baby to repeat them, talk about everything that is going on in order to add to their memory banks and make it easier for them to learn a greater number of words in a shorter period of time. For example, you can talk to them about the foods that they are eating, describe what you are doing or chat about the things that you see on a visit to the park. The baby will eventually associate the words with the things you are talking about.
Babies may not understand what you are saying when you chatter to them incessantly, but the constant communication will help them build their own language skills that much sooner.
Reading to your children should start early. Really early. The American Academy of Pediatrics recom¬mends starting as soon as your children are born.
Reading stimulates brain development and language skills, as well as fostering a closer emotional bond between parents and children. Remember these tips:
• Read widely. Infants respond to voices around them, so start out by reading anything that’s handy—sports pages and cookbooks will do, as well as very simple picture books.
• Ask questions. As your child grows older, get him or her involved. Ask them what they think will happen next, or why a character behaved that way. You’ll start teaching some basic critical thinking skills, and you’ll make the experience more enjoyable.
• Read every day. Make reading a regular activity. Don’t just limit it to bedtime. Bring a book with you to doctor’s appointments and the store so you can read while waiting.
A lot of people – particularly busy parents – enjoy dining out at a restaurant, but many parents can be decidedly nervous about going out to eat with their children because of how the children might behave during the meal. The good news is that there are a few tips that can help you make the scenario of the family eating out together a much smoother and more enjoyable experience for all concerned.
One good idea is to check before you go out to eat that the menu of the restaurant you intend to eat in will have something that your child will actually be willing to eat. Another good idea is to beat the rush by going to the restaurant at an off-peak time, such as between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a weekday afternoon.
Choose to be seated in a booth if you can, as this usually makes it a lot easier to keep your children contained. Not all restaurants are prepared for children so bring along something to keep them entertained such as a coloring book and crayons.
Hope this helps and enjoy!