We have recently spoken with three child development experts about this question, beginning with renowned counsellor, scientist and storyteller, Dr. Deborah MacNamara, along with early childhood education college instructors, Candiss Brown and Nika Jibrael. According to all three, play is where it all begins.
Reptiles are a valuable addition to a family setting because they like being handled, they are docile, and they enjoy our company.
But! Are they completely safe around kids?
Children can accidentally hurt a reptile (such as a crested gecko or a bearded dragon) by letting it fall or holding it by the tail. In some worst-case scenarios, kids might get bitten due to rough handling. Exposing them to the risk of getting a salmonella infection.
In this post, we will be addressing the issue of your reptiles’ safety around your kids and vice versa. Read on to learn more!
Tips to Consider
If your reptile is mishandled or hurt by your kid, it’s probably because your child doesn’t truly know how to care for the animal. It can also be any other reason.
The good thing about kids is that they can effectively learn how to properly care for pets. Even kids on the spectrum can learn how to care for animals and stay safe around them. It all depends on the approach you take as a parent to keep your reptiles safe around your kids.
Here are some great tips you should consider:
Choosing a Reptile for Your Family
Understandably, you are worried about your reptiles’ safety around your children, but the priority is always your kids’ safety. So, choose a reptile that is hardy, docile, calm, friendly, and free of bacteria. The following are some of the most child-friendly reptiles you can consider.
One of the most popular reptiles for kids is crested geckos. These reptiles have a gentle disposition and a docile temperament.
They are pretty hardy little creatures that are easy for kids to handle. They are also skittish and jumpy. But they’ve got a prehensile tail and sticky fingers that allow them to climb and hold on to things. So, falling to the ground is highly unlikely.
Female crested geckos tend to be more docile than males as far as temperament is concerned. Males, however, are more aggressive towards each other as they reach sexual maturity. Learn more here about the differences between male and female crested geckos.
Crested geckos are fairly easy to care for. So, teaching your kid how to care for one shouldn’t be a very difficult process.
Beardies or bearded dragons are spectacular reptiles for adults and kids. They are among the most popular creatures in the pet market.
Beardies are generally calm, docile, gentle, friendly, social, curious, and enjoy being handled. They are also big enough, hardy, and tolerant. So, they rarely bite or scratch when roughly handled. They do have nails, but they will not break the skin of your child.
Unlike other lizards, bearded dragons don’t lose their tails. So, if your child accidentally holds a beardie by the tail, the animal will not fall.
Kids, however, may not be able to care for bearded dragons by themselves. This is so because they have a complex diet, which includes meat and plants. They also need a variety of plants and meat.
Create a Safe Enclosure for Your Reptile
A safe enclosure or housing is among the most important considerations in a home with kids. When you are not around, you can safely leave the reptile in its terrarium.
You need a suitable spot to place the enclosure in your home. Preferably, out of reach of children. If the tank, however, is in a room that is accessible to children, make sure it is properly locked. This will prevent any attempts of your child getting to the reptile when you are not around.
The enclosure you choose should be tailored toward your reptile’s needs. For arboreal reptiles like chameleons and crested geckos, you will need a vertical enclosure. For fossorial reptiles like bearded dragons and skinks, you will need a horizontal enclosure.
The size of an enclosure you build or buy, on the other hand, will depend on the adult size of the reptile and its natural habits. Some reptile species are more sedentary than others and may not require too much space.
The tank must have ideal temperature and humidity because reptiles rely primarily on their environment to regulate body temperature.
What’s Your Child’s Age
The temperament or disposition of the reptile you choose should match your family’s lifestyle. It isn’t impossible to teach your child kindness and patience when handling a reptile. But, this part of parenting depends on the age of your child and the temperament of the animal.
Age 3 and Under
Kids in this age group can learn positive behavior if you guide them properly. You have to teach your child that reptiles are living creatures and it is unkind to mishandle them. It’s safer, however, not to introduce a reptile to a child at this age.
Age 4 to 5
Kids in this age group can pet reptiles in their homes. But, they need to be supervised at all times. They tend to be overly curious and may accidentally rough handle or hurt a reptile, especially small lizards. It is also advisable not to introduce kids under 5 to reptiles.
Age 6 to 8
Children in this age group are always eager to learn. They would want to know what the reptile is, how to handle it, and even how to care for the animal. You can teach a kid at this age how to properly pick up a bearded dragon and so on. But, supervision is still necessary.
Age 8 to 11
If you properly taught your kid how to handle and care for a reptile in the previous age groups, then he or she should have a good understanding at this age. It’s highly unlikely for a kid at this age to be unkind to a pet, but it is wise to maintain supervision.
Age 12 and Beyond
Children at this age are more responsible and usually give animals the care they deserve. They can even take care of the reptile pets when their parents are away. But, how good they are at the job, depends on how well they were taught to care for reptiles when younger.
Teach Your Kid How to Handle a Reptile
Most reptile pets tend to be rather small. Therefore, their small size makes them difficult to handle. It would be safer for your reptile if it is left alone in its enclosure because the risk of injury is rather high in untrained hands.
Handling, however, is unavoidable in a house with kids. So, it is important to teach your child to handle reptiles in a way that minimizes risk or injury.
One of the most common problems when handling small reptiles (like lizards) apart from the tail dropping, is that they are vulnerable to being squeezed too hard. Most kids, in an effort, to stop a fast-moving or jumpy reptile from escaping, is to squeeze too tightly. This can damage the internal organs of the animal and even cause prolapse.
Although small reptiles like a crested gecko are unlikely to do your child any harm. It is important to teach your child to restrain it in a way that will cause minimum stress and injury. The restraining procedure requires you to teach your child to do the following.
- A small reptile (a lizard in this case) should be grasped on the neck using a thumb and first finger
- The rest of the reptile’s body is gently enwrapped with the other fingers of the hand
- The tail of the animal should hang freely away from the fingers to avoid any possible damage or detachment
- Remind your kid not to squeeze the animal to avoid the risk of prolapse
Supervision and Separation
Although you’ve taught your kid how to properly handle a reptile without causing it harm, that doesn’t mean the animal is completely safe.
You must directly supervise any interaction your child has with the reptile. So, you have to be in close range of the reptile pet and child. This will allow you to immediately intervene whenever necessary.
If you are committed somewhere else, you must physically separate the reptile from your kid. The best way to do this is to put the reptile in its enclosure where it will be undoubtedly safe.
All reptiles, including lizards, snakes, tortoises, and turtles require careful handling. This is so because they may be carrying worms, parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
All these can be passed to your kids, especially salmonella bacteria. The following safety tips can help you reduce any risk factors.
- Take a reptile to the veterinarian for a checkup before introducing it to a house with kids
- Avoid reptile pets if you have kids younger than 5 years because their immune system is not well-developed
- Teach your child not to touch his or her mouth after handling a reptile or its enclosure
- Train your kids to thoroughly wash their hands with warm water and soap after handling a reptile
It’s not difficult to keep your reptile pets safe around your kids. But, there are a few things you have to do. Make sure you bring home the correct type of reptile. Ideally, a docile, calm, and hardy creature. Then have a safe enclosure for its well-being and teach your kid how to properly and safely handle the animal. But, most importantly, always supervise any interactions between your kid and your reptile.
Jennifer Munsell is a resident writer of Reptileslife. She’s passionate about pet reptiles. When she was seven years old, she begged and pleaded for a cute fluffy puppy. She got a lizard instead. That’s how reptiles became her life.
This year on Valentine’s Day, we decided to focus on the gift of FRIENDSHIP and are so excited to be featuring this dynamic duo – Bobs & Lolo. Their partnership did not begin as a business arrangement but rather, blossomed from a lifelong friendship that started at the tender age of eight, when these two…
Internationally renowned for it's groundbreaking stranded marine mammal response program, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Society (VAMMR) responds to over 300 marine mammal emergencies annually and runs Canada's only dedicated marine mammal hospital facility. Over the 60 years in operation, VAMMR has successfully rescued and rehabilitated over 3000 marine mammals. It's estimated that more…