This week, I had to take my pet hamster to the veterinary office and it opened up a whole lot of dialogue about feeling sick with the four year old I babysit. Off and on all week one of the little girls I babysit, I will call her Lacey for the purposes of this article, and I talked a lot about how to make my hamster Lily C. Pancakes (Lily for short) feel more comfortable while she was sick. I am not at all happy that my pet was sick, but it has opened a dialogue with Lacey I was not expecting. Having a sick pet has piked conversations and questions from “how does it feel to be sick?” to “what is the difference between a dog and rat?”
Preschool (ages 3 to 4) is the time when children begin to learn to relate to others and to the world around them on an emotional level. They start to notice things that are the same and different more often. I like to take every possible opportunity to talk with them about such things so they can develop that skill. Most of the questions below were originally brought up by Lacey throughout the week.
“How do you feel when you are sick? How does your pet feel when he or she is sick?”
Nobody likes to feel sick, and Lily is no different. Lacey asked me a lot of questions about how Lily was feeling and why she was feeling that way. Instead of answering right away, I asked her how she feels when she is sick. This was a great way to help her relate the way she feels to Lily. She is starting to learn that nobody likes to be sick, and that if something makes her feel bad, it probably makes others feel bad, also.
“How can we make our sick pet feel more comfortable?”
“What kind of pet do you have? How do you care for your pet differently than other pets?”
Lacey loves to talk about her pets. It is important for young kids to learn about a variety of different animals, not just dogs and cats. When Lacey started to tell me about her pets at home, that created an open door for me to ask her how it is different to take care of my pet, than hers. It is important for them to start to see similarities in the way an animal looks as well as the way the animal acts and how you have to treat them. In our case, she had a dog, so we talked about how we have to be extra gentle with the hamster because she is small.
“How are animals and humans different? How are they the same?”
One of the key things a child in preschool will need to develop for kindergarten is their ability to compare and contrast familiar objects and living creatures. I try to bring up animals a lot because they are a point of interest to young children, and a great way to help a child develop this skill. Lacey loves her pet dog, and I have a pet hamster, so whenever she is holding Lily, I like to ask her questions about her dog and my hamster. Lacey seems to enjoy talking about her dog, so this works out perfectly.
Preschool aged kids are all about exploring themselves and figuring out where they stand in a family and the rest of the world. They are starting to develop their sense of self, and understand that if they feel a certain way, others probably do also. It is important to take every possible opportunity to help them relate themselves to the rest of their world and to recognize the way things are the same and different. Animals are a great way to do that, even those who are sick.