It’s that time of year again — that time of year, every year, when I start thinking about the number of families who are considering buying a bird, kitten, bunny or puppy for Christmas. Every year I put off writing it until it’s too late because, frankly, it just depresses me. At the risk of being a grinch, I hate the idea of anyone buying their kids a pet parrot (or any pet) as a Christmas gift.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t let your children have a pet bird. Or that a parrot couldn’t be the best gift (read: blessing) you could bring into someone’s life, but just don’t do it on a big gift-giving holiday.
Why Not to Give Animals as Christmas Presents
- A pet isn’t a commodity like an Xbox or a bike. Don’t set the expectation that an animal is a toy or a plaything like other types of gifts they might be used to.
- There are too many competing stimuli, other gifts to open, etc. for a child to really absorb what the new responsibility means.
- The entire family probably has a lot of other commitments and errands that need to be run at this time of year, making it difficult to focus on the needs of your new family member, and sets a poor precedent.
- All that stimulus and excitement an be overwhelming and frightening to the animal, especially a prey animal like a parrot.
- When you “surprise” someone with an animal, there’s a chance they might be disappointed that it’s not the kind they wanted. It also doesn’t make them as invested in the choice.
- Unlike other gifts, the animal doesn’t actually “belong” to the child. While the child may be responsible for feeding and cleaning the bird, the ultimate responsibility (and thus “ownership”) actually belongs with the adults in the household.
- Animals are not “new and shiny”. Birds will bite, scream and poop. Maybe not what you had in mind for the holidays, especially if you’re a control freak who likes your special occasions to be just perfect.
If your child (or family) has been wanting a pet, you can still get the the animal in a way that sets a good foundation for a great life-long relationship.
First, get the child involved in preparing for and choosing the pet.
Second, don’t put the actual pet under the Christmas tree.
Both of these tips help set up the expectation that a living thing is a very different type of gift. If you don’t want your kids to treat a pet like a toy, then lead by example by not presenting it like one either.
If you want to use the holidays to introduce the idea of a new bird into your child’s life, there are ways to set your new pet and your child up for success.
For example, you can give the “promise” of a new bird along with books and supplies in preparation for bringing home a bird later. The founder of Petfinder promotes this very idea with a Pet Promise Certificate.
To get the child invested in the new future family member, you might even include a piggy bank with a birdie “trust fund” to use as a starter fund for the bird’s care — the child would then need to contribute a minimum amount to that fund to demonstrate their continued commitment.
Then, together as a family, you can learn about the various needs and types of birds and make an informed decision about what birds you’d like to go visit. Then go visit the birds to find one who “clicks” with your child.
Remember, a bird can live longer than any other gift your child has ever gotten. No video game, toy or even new car is expected to last as long as the relationship you’re starting with a new bird. Make sure you start off on the right foot. Given that a bird can easily be your child’s best friend for a decade or (many) more, putting off an introduction for two or three weeks won’t diminish the experience at all.