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Talk about the new pet ahead of time. Parents should never wait until the animal arrives to discuss it. Especially with young children, it is important to verbally prepare your child before a new pet joins the family.
Read a book together. Select a book about the type of pet your family will be getting. Read it together with your child and ask questions throughout the book to help your child feel more comfortable about this type of animal. Point at the pictures while you read and add additional comments, such as "See? The little boy is playing with his new kitty."
Watch a movie featuring the type of pet your family is purchasing. There are many family-friendly movies starring traditional pets, such as dogs, cats and hamsters. Watching a film together will help your child see the animal and how it interacts with other children and family members. When you bring your new pet home, your child will feel more familiar with the animal and less afraid.
Give your child a stuffed-animal version of the pet you will be bringing home. This will help your child to not feel threatened by the animal when she sees it for the first time.
Part of the process
Let your child come along to select the pet. While your toddler may be too young to actually help choose your new pet, bring him along when you pick up the animal. This will help him feel more involved in the process of adding a new member to the family.
Teach by example
Teach your child how to touch the pet. Toddlers are old enough to be curious about the pet but usually not old enough to touch it unsupervised. Hold your toddler and help her gently pet your new animal and practice being gentle. Make sure to verbalize what you are doing. For example, "We're being gentle to the puppy. Gentle petting. We should always be gentle."