Everyone loves a game, toddlers more than most. Jumping around on Mummy and Daddy’s duvet covers, throwing and kicking balls around, whizzing about with their toy cars and assembling their toy houses – there’s no end to all the fun. Being stuck for ideas on how to entertain your little one never lasts long – aside from all the puzzles, building blocks and baby soft toys online, toddlers happen to be pretty gifted at entertaining themselves. Frankly, it’s all you can do to keep up.
That said, there’s a whole other way to keep toddlers engaged and entertain, one that will educate them, give them great pleasure and even, in time, wonderful, lifelong memories. Our children’s fascination with animals isn’t restricted to picture books, tv programmes and inner-city farms. But the right pet will do even more than that. With animals, young children can start to form their earliest most heart-warming relationships as they put to work their inherent qualities of compassion, tenderness and benevolence.
What pets are great for your toddler? What pets aren’t?
Let’s start with the bad ones first. As a general rule, sharp teeth, short tempers and harmful bacteria is not recommended. With that being the case, while older children are a little more resistant, a little more able in the area of self-defence, toddlers don’t always mix well with reptiles (think duplicitous snakes, bitie lizards and snappy turtles).
Likewise, you would do well to steer clear of rodents. Hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils (know the difference? Neither do we) are classic children’s pets, but best left to kids of 5 years and up. Same for ferrets, mice and rats – and even lovely little bunnies.
Also, best avoid chicks and ducklings. They may be cute, but they can also spread disease and cause allergies. Besides, they’re delicate little things and your toddler might not quite realise that yet.
Now the pets we want for our toddlers. We want pets that don’t require too much heavy lifting, that aren’t too demanding, that aren’t too high-maintenance. Goldfish, for example, need regular water changes and lots of space, whereas bloodfin tetras are altogether sturdier. They can live up to 10 years and enjoy swimming about as part of a school, which is endlessly fascinating.
Reptiles are out but amphibians are in. Got a garden? Get a pond. Got a pond? Have frogs and newts. Be sure to keep the water fresh and dot around a few rocks and some vegetation. The rest you can leave up to the little fellas as they will generally just look after themselves. Perhaps, if we’re being strict about it, pondlife doesn’t exactly qualify for being a pet – expect ‘your’ frogs and newts to get up and leave one day. But fear not, as long as your keep the water fresh and the cats and birds away, these guys will be back next year to lay their eggs. Your toddler will be enthralled to see all that gloopy frog’s spawn suddenly appear, and even more so once those little eggs start wriggling about.
Puppies and kittens are also great for toddlers – just be sure to read up on the breed to make sure they’re plenty kid-friendly – but they will also require a little more intervention on your part, so be prepared!