While pet reptiles may not be every family’s cup of tea or initial choice when it comes to getting a new pet, some young boys and girls have a natural curiosity and passion for these scaly critters.
If you find yourself in the position of considering a reptile as your child’s new pet, or even if they’ve already convinced you to make an impulse purchase at the pet shop and you’re the proud new owner of a snake, lizard, or turtle – today, we’ll discuss how you can teach your child to take care of the new family pet.
Step 1: Exposure & Research
If you and your child haven’t already narrowed down which reptile you’ll be adding to the family, now is a great time to read up on different species’ care requirements.
With this knowledge, you’ll be able to decide which type of reptile best suits your family’s home and lifestyle.
On a side note, lizards make great reptilian pets for children who are (or whose parents are) apprehensive about the idea of owning a snake. This list of lizards from Reptile Guide provides you with a good overview of beginner-friendly pet options and their respective care information.
However, if your child already has their new pet, research is even more important! You’ll want to help your child optimize the reptile’s environment and care ASAP. The longer a cold-blooded animal is too cold, or too dry, or on dangerous substrate, the higher the risk they will get sick or die.
Visiting a zoo, aquarium, museum, or another facility that keeps the species that you and your child are interested in is a great way to become accustomed to the animal’s appearance and behavior. It also gives you a chance to ask the keeper essential questions about reptile ownership. YouTube videos can also be incredibly helpful since most children are visual learners.
An essential lesson for young children is that one of the most significant parts of pet ownership, whether it is a dog, a parrot, a guinea pig, or a snake, is learning how to take care of it properly.
Use the opportunity to teach your child to identify reliable resources such as age-appropriate books from the library, trustworthy websites, and experts who work with reptiles for a living. This is an excellent skill for children to learn for future academic endeavors, like writing research papers.
Here are some key factors to learn about:
● Temperature and Humidity Requirements
Step 2: Create a Chart
Now that you know what the reptile’s husbandry requirements are, you can decide which tasks are appropriate for your child’s age and maturity level.
A handy way for both the parent and the child to keep track of these tasks is by creating a daily, weekly, or monthly checklist or chore chart. Your child can check or cross off tasks as they complete them, giving them a sense of accomplishment and avoiding the risk that either of you will forget anything. If you include the tasks that the adults of the family are responsible for, you can teach your kid that pet ownership is a family effort – as they say, it takes a village!
As with other chores and responsibilities in a child’s life, a reward system is certainly beneficial for encouraging your kid to complete their share of the care chart.
If you choose to utilize consequences, too, please keep the animal’s health and well-being in mind.
Snakes, lizards, and turtles can become very stressed out if they are re-homed and need to become accustomed to new surroundings.
If you aren’t willing to take full care of the reptile if your child loses interest, perhaps consider another type of pet or another opportunity for your child, like fostering for a reptile rescue organization or volunteering at a zoo.
Here are some ideas of age-appropriate reptile husbandry tasks for children.
3 – 5 Years Old (Only with direct adult assistance)
● Help parents prepare diet and fill food and water bowls
● Carry dirty dishes and decor to the washing area
● Spray enclosure to increase humidity
● Pet or touch reptile
● Learn to wash hands after handling
● Learn to safely offer treats as appropriate
● Help visually inspect and observe reptile for physical or behavioral abnormalities
5 – 13 Years Old
● Monitor and record daily temperature and humidity levels
● Handle reptile with supervision to maintain tameness
● Wash dirty dishes and decor with soap and hot water
● Monitor and record reptile’s weight monthly
● Clean out waste
● Help with full enclosure cleanings
13+ Years Old
● Set up and maintain heating and lighting equipment
● Bathe reptile
● Clean enclosure
● Prepare diet, provide fresh food and water daily or as needed
Step 3: Guidance, Monitoring, and Ongoing Research
Having decided which tasks your child will be responsible for, it’s time to teach your child how to perform them.
As mentioned before, and especially if you, yourself, don’t already have the experience, YouTube videos are an excellent resource. They can visually show your child how to respectfully handle the animal, feed it the appropriate diet, set up the enclosure decorations for optimum enrichment, and more.
Just keep in mind that not every Youtuber is an expert, and some folks may unintentionally give out bad advice. When in doubt, fact check pieces of knowledge and advice with other experts.
Reptile ownership tends to be a constant learning experience. Just when you and your child think you’ve gotten everything figured out, something new pops up – shedding issues, distress, food refusal, uncharacteristic defensiveness.
Maybe it’s because of seasonal changes, an illness, or reptile “puberty.” You and your child can consider yourselves pet detectives, taking note of and investigating any minor changes you observe – before they become drastic, potentially harmful changes.
Finally, the last and also ongoing step in teaching your child to take care of a reptile is to continue to monitor and supervise. Ensure all tasks are completed, and that your child doesn’t forget about or lose interest in their pet.
Encourage them and praise them profusely when they do well, and inform them, in an age-appropriate manner, of what could happen to their pet if they’re not well taken care of.
Good luck to you and your child in this exciting new, scaly chapter of your lives!