For all the affection that kids often have for animals, they need to learn that not all animals are pets. That chipmunk may be the cutest thing your daughter has ever seen, but trying to chase it and touch it is really not okay. Helping your child understand the difference between domesticated and wild animals is important - for animals and for your child.
Kids seem to love learning about the animal world. From television shows to zoos to the menageries of stuffed animals that grace many a childs bedroom, kids seem to be enamored with creatures great and small. While what they see on the screen and in zoos habitats may seem remote, it's fairly natural for kids to apply that animal interest to the creatures in the backyard. But kids also need to learn that the wildlife in the backyard or beyond the fence should stay there. As much as your child thinks the squirrels are cute and wants to be near them, she cannot, as she might claim, "speak squirrel" and bring that squirrel into your home.
When kids see shows on television or see websites that are meant to teach about animals, they often see people handling these wild animals, and with that kids can think they can handle them, too. It's important to be clear that the people handling those animals are experts handling animals for a specific purpose.
In addition, some shows feature "everyday" people who adopt wild animals. These are extreme cases, and animal experts discourage such situations. With these visions in their minds, the lines of appropriate interaction can be blurred for a child. Understanding that - and reiterating appropriate interaction - is critical.
Wildlife means wild
There's a reason "wild" is part of the term "wildlife." The animals in question are wild and their behaviors unpredictable. Expecting behavior similar to your cat or dog or gerbil from a wild animal can lead to disappointment - and danger. Animals act and react based on sets of information we do not understand - kid OR grown-up. They don't use human logic. Respect and understanding on this level is critical.
Look don't touch
Respect for wild animals means many things - including not touching them, and not feeding them. They can be very cute and fluffy and your child may be sure they are the softest thing ever, but your child should never try to touch a wild animal. Your child should also be instructed to keep some distance from wild animals. Again, because they are wild and behaviors are unpredictable, you never quite know what a wild animal is going to do. The animal may feel threatened or defensive, and act accordingly. Better to leave them alone entirely!
Germs and diseases
Wild animals carry germs and diseases, whether they look sick or not. Keeping clear of wildlife is a health issue as much as a safety and respect issue. When an animal bite results in a hospital visit and maybe even longer term illness, that "adorable" animal is not so adorable. The animal world is fascinating and foreign to us - and for most of us it should stay that way. Teaching your children repsect for wildlife - in the backyard and beyond - is a matter of respect for all animals, and their own health and safety. Your child may be disappointed not to try to become friends with the local a squirrel, possum and skunk population, but you'll all (human and animal alike) be safer for it.?
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