My Kid Wants a Pet Chicken: 5 Tips for Parents on Dealing with the Unexpected
By Elana K. Arnold
One day, when my son was four years old, we were playing at our neighborhood park. He spied a little brown chicken, skinny, orange-legged, with bedraggled feathers and an uneven red comb.
“Can I have it?” he asked.
“If you can catch it, you can keep it,” I said. Of course he would never be able to catch it. He was a little kid, and it was a bird. With wings!
Thus began our Chicken Years.
He named the chicken Opal. Though she was safe in our yard, in the playhouse-turned-henhouse we gave her, she looked… lonely. A quick visit to Craigslist rectified that situation, and soon we were the proud owners of a flock — Opal, Luscious, and Ruby Wrestler.
If you’re a parent, sooner or later you’re going to be presented with a “Can I have it?” moment. Maybe you’re the kind of person (unlike me) who thinks things through all the way to the end and would never respond with an off-the-cuff “If you can catch it, you can keep it.” If so, I salute you. But whether you’re cautious or cavalier, here are a few tips for Dealing with the Unexpected.
1) Instead of starting with “Default No,” consider trying “Yes, And…”
Admittedly, I didn’t have to go full-chicken lady when my kid asked if he could have that hen. But even if we hadn’t been in a place where we could afford to keep the bird, there is always a third option besides “absolutely yes” and “absolutely no.” I could have gone with, “If you can catch it, we can keep it until we find a safe home for it,” or “If you catch it, we can take it to a local school that keeps a flock of chickens so that it’s with friends.”
2) If you can say Yes to the Pet… do!
If you’ve spent any time reading parenting blogs or magazines, you’ve doubtless seen a list like this:
Pets teach responsibility
Kids with pets are less likely to develop allergies
Pets teach compassion
Kids with pets learn how to deal with death
But, pets are great in lots of other ways, too. If you have a kid who has a hard time socializing, a pet (especially an unusual one, like a chicken, a bearded dragon, or a ferret, all of which we’ve owned) can make an excellent social lubricant. Consider them the kid equivalent of “Do you want to come back to my place and see my record collection?” Both my kid and I have struck up a number of friendships by talking about our animals.
3) If you can’t say Yes to the Pet… what can you say Yes to?
Let’s face it, not all homes (or parents!) are cut out for pet ownership. But if your kid brings home an unexpected guest that you have to turn away, maybe she’s ready to embrace responsibility in some other way. Lots of organizations are looking for help; donating old blankets to shelters or veterinary clinics is a great way to help animals, for one. Help your kid set up a collection in the neighborhood or at school! Another option is offering to help with a pet adoption fair; some locations are looking for animal lovers of all ages to play with and cuddle the adoptees.
4) Keep your Sense of Humor
I can’t say that the myriad pets we’ve said yes to over the years haven’t brought with them many, many puddles and piles. Oh, they have! But they’ve also been a constant source of laughter and joy… much like my human children, come to think of it!
5) Stay Flexible!
If parenting has taught me anything, it’s the importance of flexibility. Though my kids are bigger now, and the chickens have long since gone the way of the Dodo, the flexibility I gained during those years has remained. And these days, when my kids are out in the world having their own wonderful teenaged adventures, I am not alone. I have my son’s dog, my daughter’s cat, and more than a few other animals who are more than willing to keep me company.
Elana K. Arnold is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and teen novels, including A Boy Called Bat, the story of Bixby Alexander Tam (“Bat” for short) who wants to keep a baby skunk. Arnold lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.
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