Even if you've vetoed your kid's pleas for a pet in the past, this is good time to revisit the idea. "It's ideal to bring home your family's furry friend when your child is 5 or 6; at this age kids fully comprehend that pets are living creatures and not moving stuffed animals," says Carolyn Ievers-Landis, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, in Cleveland. "A pet fosters a child's desire to be a caregiver, which usually emerges around this age."
What's more, animals are great friends for kindergartners and first-graders. In a study of 5-year-olds at Purdue University, more than 40 percent said they turn to their pet when they feel sad, angry, or have a secret to share. "We also found that 5- and 6-year-old pet owners expressed more empathy to their peers than those who don't have an animal around the house," says researcher Gail F. Melson, Ph.D., professor of child development and family studies. Ready to add a new member to your brood? Use our expert guide to decide which popular pet best fits your kid's personality and your family's lifestyle.