My husband and I don't have kids ourselves (at least, not the human kind!), but we have a niece and three nephews, two little neighbor girls, and friends with kids all in the age range of a few months to seven years old.
This evening, our neighbor kids came over to meet our pigs for the second time. We had them in their play area so it would be easy to watch them. The older girl (seven) did a really good job of waiting patiently for our pigs to come meet her - and to our surprise, Sullivan walked right up to her and let her pet him. The younger girl (five) kept startling Gilbert because she kept trying to grab him. We told her that if she stayed still, he'd come up to her. She stayed still right up until he approached her, and then of course she grabbed for him and freaked him out. (The last time the girls came over, we let them sit in chairs with towels and hold our pigs, which they did really well, and both pigs were happily cooing.)
Here's my question: How do you explain to a five-year-old how to treat a guinea pig?
I have found that kids sometimes panic at the nails. Having the piggy secure in the cozy sack seems to help the comfort level of both the child and the pig. We use the sitting rule so that no one gets accidently dropped.
She is not allowed to get them out of the cage or put them back, she can not feed them without asking, and her least favorite she can not walk around while holding them(mommy can, so it makes her jealous).
But this is my kid. Other kids even my beloved nephew is a different story. I trust him to sit and hold them on the couch, or sit on the floor and play. That is pretty much it.
But we've had piggies for 4 years now.
What I've found that they relate to is a story told to them. Or some kind of a 'play'.
I told my two to 'close your eyes.' and picture themselves playing at the park. They are having fun and swinging. I described the day and all. (they'd peek and open their eyes when they started getting into the story. Then I talked about a huge purple monster approaching. He was BIGGER then the trees! He had teeth, all pointy, when he 'smiled' and when he talked, it was loud like booming thunder. But he sat across the street and simply watched them play. At first, I asked "you would feel startled, wouldn't you?"
They both nodded thier heads. "But, when you found out, though he's big, he was also kind and gentle and didn't want to hurt you. His fur was pretty, thick and looked soft"
They both smiled.
"But as you walked closer, he held out his big paw for you to pet. Would you touch him if he was a nice monster?"
They both agreed they would...
Then I said..."What if the monster got very excited about you getting closer to him...so excited that he reached out to grab you!" and even made my own voice go a bit growly when I asked them the question.
They both jumped a bit; eyes wide. They laughed (because I made my monster face). BUt the point was given when I said.."See? The guinea pigs feel the same way. They would love for you to pet and love them, but, just like the purple monster, you have to be very still and let them come to you. You don't want to frighten your new friends away."
Anyway, it worked. They both are very gentle, and sit down outside the 'play area', waitng for the piggies to one, by one, approach in thier own time. (though, sometimes they have to be bribed with a bit of lettuce)
When it comes to lessons for my kids I'm a story telling fool;
"The Very Quiet Butterfly" is one I use to keep them hushed in situations where it's inapropriat to be noisy (church, hospitals,libraries, grandma's house.)
"Little Jarred Mouse" Is one I use to teach them when to call for help. How to know the difference between dangerious things that require assistance and simple things that can be figured out on thier own with a little patience and perseverance
"Wild, Wild Westie" Is a story I tell them about feeling so energetic they can't contain themselves anymore. How to ask to go outside, to the backyard and do the "Wild, Wild, Westie" -- It helps to actually OWN a Westie who's hyper active most of the time, too. lol
I have quite a few more and can make one up at the drop of a hat in any situation that would need one.
It rubs off on them. Every semester when they have Parent/Teacher conferances, I'll get so many compliments about how the O'D---- kids are the most creative story tellers they have in school.
Do not just tell the story once. When ever the situation arises again, ask them "Do you remember the Purple Monster?"
If they tell you they do (and thier little faces light up with recognision), you may test them a bit and ask THEM to tell you the story. They'll get bits and peaces. You can fill in the rest. Then ask, again..."You don't want to be like the purple monster and frighten your friends away. Right? So lets remember to be very still and let the guinea pigs come to us, first."
It's a good story to tell when the smaller children are exposed to most any timid animal.
I'll also take the above mentioned advice about having them sit down and just holding the pigs.
L.M.One - have you written a collection of your stories yet? :)
My niece is almost 6 and my nephew is almost 3, and has started learning how to give chin-scratches to Jackie.
When you place the piggy in her arms--
YOU whisper to her "shhh.. this piggy has a special game he loves to play. He calls it the "Whisper, Whisper" game". Let's play, too!"
Then when she starts to giggle, put your finger to your lips and whisper again.
"Shhh...he's trying to make you lose the game by getting you to giggle! He's a sly little piggy, isn't he? Let's show him you're going to win, this time!"
Eventually, she'll learn to contain herself from any shrilling giggles. If she gives softer little giggles you can praise her by saying.."Oh! That giggle was so soft I don't think he heard it! You're going to win!"
*laugh* No, I haven't written any books. But thanks for the compliment.
I love Joanna's idea for the older children. (over 6)
My kids will sit on the floor, 'toe-to-toe' and creat a 'pin' with their legs. They usually roll Dragon's Mr Nibbles (bell toy) around so he can chase it. He loves it so much.
salana's idea is amazing when it covers 'color' and even the shape of piggies, along with how to handle them!
I really think there is so little we can't teach children about animal care and respect for all pets.
Am I remembering correctly that Einstein is a "special" piggy? Aside from the disabilities, does he handle being petted and played with as well as any guinea pig would?
Most of the kids who might be coming into contact with our pigs grew up around cats and dogs - animals large enough to get away. My neighbor girls have three cats (one of whom resembles Bucky in the Get Fuzzy comic - complete with the fang), fish, and birds; my friends' kids have four cats, two of our nephews have three cats, and my other nephew and niece don't have pets but spend time at my parents' house, where Mickey the Collie keeps them in line. So none of them have really had much exposure to the little pets that you can actually touch.
You're definatly welcome to any stories or ideas.
Thank you, too, for wanting to creat a page that can help other parents out in teaching kids the value of each small pets' care
It's called "Tunal Trouble"
What I normalydo during floor time,is put down a few cardboard boxes around the play area. This is very important to new pigs who are still feeling a bit shy, but need floor time (alone, though, untill they can safely be introduced to the rest of the herd). The boxs have two openings. Like a tunal. When the piggy goes in, the child who is trying to win the new little guy's trust will lay on his belly, at least a full arm and a half length away. Holding a nice treat (Letuc or carrot or bit of apple) and gently speek to him to coax him back out of the tunal. This is usually only for the very patient older child. But you should see the pride when we all celebrate a nose peeking out of the tunal, and even more when the piggy takes the morsal of food from the child's hand!
I forgot to mention that--I started my niece and nephew out fairly young getting treats for the pigs. Baby carrots and grape tomatoes are their favorites, and they'll argue over whose carrot Jackie is eating more of. They started out just putting the carrots or tomatoes in front of the pigs (in my lap or on a towel on the floor) but moved on to holding the carrot while the pig chews it. With multiple pigs, they're scrupulously fair, although sometimes overzealous in saying, "No, Cuddles, that's Suzi's tomato, yours is this one," which the pigs ignore. My niece and nephew are both very into making sure all the pigs have tomatoes or carrots and nobody is left out, which is good. This is probably a good way to show that there are enough tomatoes for everyone and sharing is a good thing, etc.
Let me see if I can find any pictures of my niece and nephew with the pigs.