Most children with ADHD exhibit extremely immature behavior for their age. Before my son was officially diagnosed, I tried a few different things to help him grow up a little and learn some responsibility.
One thing I remember hearing a lot from adults when I was growing up was that pets teach kids responsibility, so I gave it a try. Unfortunately, this was an extremely misguided notion.
- Untimely exits of one mouse, two hamsters, and a fish
When I believed that the solution for my son was pet ownership, I decided to start small. I figured that a creature that I didn’t have to let outside was probably the best kind. To me, a mouse seemed like a nice, low maintenance animal. So, that’s what we got – a little white mouse that my son named Spooky, the Super Mouse.
For about a week, the mouse was really fun for my son, and he paid close attention to her. One day, I looked in her cage to check her food and water levels, and she was gone! My son had gotten her out, and set her down on his desk while he was coloring. She wondered off – we never saw her again. Kennedy actually was very upset over the loss (literally!) of his beloved mouse.
Thinking this was a correctable action, we debriefed my son on the situation and a few weeks later decided to try again – this time with a hamster. Fast forward about three weeks and I find the little guy’s empty hamster ball outside in my dog’s mouth – with no hamster in it. My son had taken him out “for a walk” and the dogs picked up the ball, and somehow the lid came off. I never figured out if the hamster got away or if my boxer had herself a tiny snack.
Foolishly, I decided to try one more time with a new hamster. This time, my son took the water bottle out of the cage to fill it up with water and it never made it back in the cage. Needless to say, that hamster didn’t make it either.
For a long time, we didn’t get him any more pets until my mother-in-law gave him a fish tank for his birthday. I thought that this was a fail proof pet. He’s already in water, you feed him, and that’s pretty much it, right? Less than a week later, I checked on the fish and he was stuck in the filter, but not in that cute Finding Nemo way. Just as an experiment, I decided to bury him at sea without telling my son, and waited to see how long it would take him to notice – just to see how closely he was paying attention to it. Two weeks later, I have yet to hear anything about the fish.
- Small versus large
Although our small animals have all had early exits from my house, having animals has always helped my son cope with his situation. Because of my son’s hyperactivity and high intelligence, he has a tendency to isolate himself.
Sometimes it’s the other children who can’t handle his constant movement and talking, and feel overwhelmed when they try to interact with him. Most of the time, it’s actually him who chooses not to associate with other kids. As much as they don’t understand him, he doesn’t understand them either. I believe this is why he seems to cling to adults instead of other kids.
Having small pets hasn’t really done much for him, but our dogs have helped him tremendously. It helps to keep him from feeling alone when mom and dad can’t be at his side, and he doesn’t feel like being around other kids.
He sticks to one of our dogs like glue, he takes her out in the yard and plays with her for hours, and then she sleeps with him in his bed.
With the dogs, I have to watch over the situation a lot more carefully. I am still the one that does most of the walking, feeding, and grooming. If I didn’t, they may still meet the same fate as his rodents and fish.
So, my initial thoughts about a pet teaching my son responsibility were pretty far off base, but he has been able to create undeniable bonds with them – which makes having to monitor the situation closely well worth it.