My daughter has been begging for a pet for months. We have two dogs, but my husband and I acquired them pre-kid, so she wanted a pet that was totally “hers.” On the other hand, I didn’t want her to get a pet. I really haven’t though that she was ready or responsible enough. But her birthday was approaching, and she wasn’t asking for any toys– only a fish as a first pet. I’m not one of those people who would just run out and buy a fish. I like to research important decisions and make sure that we know how to appropriately handle any new responsibilities. After doing some research and talking with the hubby, we decided to take the plunge and surprise her with a birthday fish!
Some of you may be reading this right now and thinking, “Oh, no! Don’t do it! You’re just making more work for yourself!” Others may wonder what the big deal is and why we didn’t do it sooner. Well, we’ve been proud fish owners for a week and a half now, and I haven’t regretted our decision. Today I’m sharing what we learned on why a fish makes a good first pet, a few things that I learned on setting up a tank for a child. A special thanks to the wonderful folks over at United Pet Group for sending us an awesome Marineland tank and plenty of start-up Tetra fish supplies!
If you’re thinking of getting your little one a fish, especially if they are on the younger side like mine, here are a few things that I have learned about the process:
1. Be the parent. This might sound mean, or hardcore, but when you’re talking pets, their safety, the child’s safety and sense of responsibility, it’s important to get started on the right footing. My husband and I had already gotten the tank for her, but even just choosing the gravel, decorations, and fish was a completely overwhelming experience for her. If I had left it up to her, she would have came home with 10 different tank decorations and five different (not cohabiting) fish. You know your child best, and if they have these tendencies, be sure to reign them in. Don’t be afraid to make decisions for them (like we did with the tank) or to help direct their choices. The pet store can be overwhelming (especially if they’ve never been there before), so offering a choice between two items or fish simplifies the process. Here’s a photo of my little lady trying to pick out a fish.
2. Pick out an appropriate sized tank. For a child’s room, I obviously wanted a desktop tank. The rule when choosing a fish is to allow one inch of fish per one gallon of water (and remember, fish grow!). Knowing this information made me feel as if a 3 gallon tank was not quite enough, so we went with a five gallon Marineland Contour Desktop Kit as recommended by the awesome folks over at United Pet Group. The tank has a sleek look and actually doesn’t take up much room on her desk. It has three different lighting options and modern rounded corners. We like it a lot, but the important part is choosing a tank that works for your space, for your child, and for the amount of fish that you would like to keep.
3. Prepare with needed supplies. There’s not much worse than having an excited child on hand, ready to set up the tank, only to realize that you’re missing an item. Fish keeping supplies include AquaSafe Plus (to remove chlorine from the water), a heater, water test strips, a few months of tank filters (check the tank for the size you need), fish food, a small bucket, and a net. You’ll also need to have gravel and decorations on stand-by when setting up the tank, too. I found this out the hard way. Even though I had all the supplies in the picture below, I hadn’t bought my gravel yet before I opened the fish tank to set it up. The gravel has to be rinsed before filling the tank with water, so I had to put off setting up the tank while I ran out to grab gravel and let my daughter pick out decor.
4. Get help from the pros. I’m not going to lie- I knew nothing about keeping fish prior to this experience. My sister had one as a kid, but I never did. We asked for advice from the nice folks at the pet store, but one of the most helpful things that I did was to sign up this TetraCare service. It was totally free, and they send me emails about setting up the tank. I signed up when I first set up the tank, and the service emailed me when it was time to purchase my scout fish, along with other helpful tips.
5. Let the kids help set up the tank. As much as I was tempted to just make things easier on myself and set up the tank without the help of a preschooler, part of her “job” was to observe and “assist” me in setting up her tank. I felt like it would help give her more ownership and a sense of responsibility if she helped. We opened the box and pulled out the instructions.
She helped me lay out the pieces to the tank, put them together, and then clean the tank. I discussed with her how important it was not to let any chemicals (including soap) into the tank, and the best way to clean it was with just water. On a side note, apparently you can even clean a fish tank in full princess dress.
Then came the most fun part- setting up the tank in her room! We filled the tank, added the AquaSafe Plus, and then let it run for a few days until it was ready for our fish.
After a little help from my husband and the nice lady at the pet store, our daughter picked out a pretty pink fish.
She brought the fish directly home (that’s another thing- don’t ride around in the car once you buy a fish. Bring it home as soon as possible), and we showed her how to place the entire bag in the tank to allow the fish to acclimate to the water temperature.
After about thirty minutes, we used a net to get the fish out of the bag, and then placed the fish in the tank to swim around in “her” new pink castle.
As far as pets go, a fish is the most low maintenance type for a child. Essentially, all they have to do is feed the fish every day. There is no bathing or walking like there are with other pets. The fish can stay on her dresser in her room and be totally hers. For me, this was important. Since giving birth to the triplets, there have been very few things that she has been able to call totally hers. She’s not only taken taken on a new role as sister, but a sister to more than one at the same time which means incredible amounts of sharing and has been a huge life change. She named her fish– Pinkie– and Pinkie doesn’t leave her room or crawl in her brothers’ laps.
The tank does require cleaning and a proper environment, but I know that, at least in my case, I will be taking care of this. I do feel like my daughter has learned responsibility from her first pet. She has to remember to feed the fish, turn on the light for a few hours each day, and she has to ask someone to feed her fish if she is gone overnight. For these reasons, I feel that a fish has proven to be a great first pet for our daughter.
Her new status as a pet owner has actually taught me something about her, as well. She’s actually more responsible than I’ve given her credit. I realize that she is still just a kid, but through leading and direction, she has proven to actually remember her fish care duties — something I thought she would quickly forget.
Since overfeeding is a common demise for fish, this chart has helped tremendously. Fish should only be fed the amount of food that they can consume in about two minutes, and they are typically fed once a day. By using this chart, there is no question as to whether or not she fed her fish (in the event that she’s forgetful or isn’t there), which cuts back on overfeeding.
Only you know your own child and whether or not they are ready for the responsibility of any pet. But for us, a fish has proven to be a great one. It’s taught my daughter the proper way to create a healthy environment for a fish and to be the caretaker of one. It’s more than throwing a fish in a bowl! If you’ve been on the fence, my vote as a mom is that it’s been a good decision for us. Even if I do have to clean the tank.