For many parents, when they think of a good first pet for their child they think fish. Fish are pretty easy to care for and most parents think they require minimum parental help. Because let’s face it, do parents really need one more thing to keep alive?
We have made this ultimate kid’s fish tank starter guide to give parents the reality of what fish ownership and care should look like for their child. We will explore several different variables that will likely come to the surface when you are trying to make a wise fish decision.
It isn’t always as simple as getting a bowl and a sad-looking fish that has lived in a take out container from the pet store. We want to help your child not only enjoy the experience of managing a small aquarium, but we also want the fish to have the best care possible.
My Kid Wants a Fish, Now What?
If you’re a parent, then you have likely heard the phrase “mom, can I have a fish for my birthday (or Christmas, or any other holiday that require gifts)?” If you haven’t, turn on “Finding Nemo” or “Finding Dory” and that should do the trick.
If you love fish and have always wanted to have a small fish habitat in your home then you will hear these words with glee. But there are some parents that feel fear charge through their body at the sound of that question. All they can think is that they can’t possibly care for another creature and they know all of the responsibility will eventually fall on them.
Don’t worry, we can help. We may or may not have been the parents that didn’t want their child to have a fish and put it off for three years. Once we gave in and took the plunge, it wasn’t that scary and our child and our fish are doing really great. We can set you and your child up for success.
Pick a Fish
You may think that we have this backward. Why would you get a fish before you get the bowl or tank and all of the accessories to go with it? That is a great question. First, we don’t mean for you to go and actually purchase the fish first. We just want you to do some research.
Different fish will require different care items and will thrive in different kinds of tanks. It is important to at the very least narrow down the field of potential fish choices so you can begin researching the items they will need to live a full life.
We really do encourage you to get the choice down to one breed of fish before you move forward, though. For example, our daughter knew she wanted a Betta fish and asked for one every Christmas for three years. By the time we said yes, we knew what tank it would need, what tank companions would be best, the plant choices we wanted, water treatment, and food.
We were fully prepared for what to expect and how to properly care for a Betta fish. This type of fish is incredibly easy to care for but if you choose a different type of fish, they may require more specialized care products or accessories.
When it comes to tank choices it will come down to what type of fish and what kind of investment you are willing to make at the beginning of your fish ownership journey. There are three basic choices we will talk about in this post for simplicity’s sake but really the sky is the limit.
We do encourage you to keep it simple in the beginning until you see the commitment level of your child and how much you are willing to be involved. This is a great parent-child bonding opportunity but it is also a great chance to teach responsibility.
Also, tanks can be expensive and the cost of set up will really add up if you want a more complicated fish tank.
- Simple bowls are one of the best starter choices but are not always the best for certain types of fish. A Betta would thrive in a well cared for bowl environment but a different breed may not do as well.
- The larger one to three-gallon tanks are not the most complicated setup but they do typically require a filter, more rocks, more accessories, and cleaning them can take longer. However, if you choose to start with a small bowl and your child does well and wants to continue being a fish owner then this size would be the next natural step.
- Large aquariums are the most complicated of the tanks. These can vary in size and set up and will require more than a large amount of space in your home. It takes a deep dedication to the fish and aquarium to keep it clean and cared for. We do not recommend this if you are just trying to see if a fish is the right pet for your child.
A tank or bowl that is empty other than the fish is not only boring for your child to look at, it is also not good for the fish. They really need something that is enriching and feels like a semi-natural habitat for them to really thrive.
When you are budgeting for the cost of getting your child started with any size of fish tank, you will need to take into account the following items.
- Rocks are actually more important to the environment of the tank than one might think. They are not just decorative. They actually house good bacteria that are imperative to a healthy environment for the fish. Rocks are not expensive but the price can add up depending on the type of rocks you get and the amount you need for the size of the tank you have. Some smaller tanks can be purchased with a starter kit that has the correct amount of rocks for that size environment.
- Filters will be needed for larger tanks. Tanks that are a gallon or more in volume will really benefit from a filter because it will increase the time between required tank cleanings. If you get a half-gallon starter Betta tank you will not need a filter but the water will need to be changed every other week.
- Plants are a really fun way to add beauty and personality to your kid’s fish tank, but they are not just purely decorative. Depending on the type of plants you get they can serve a few purposes. If you get live plants they will help reduce the growth of algae in the tank because they actually compete for nutrition. Live plants also add shelter to help the fish feel protected and safe instead of just exposed out in the open. Fake plants also offer shelter and take the guesswork out of taking care of an aquatic plant.
- Structures or decor are also really fun and offer shelter. These are not a requirement but your kid will really enjoy picking out a fun little structure to decorate their tank with. This gives a little bit more ownership. We go to the clearance section and choose something small to start. Your kid will still love picking something out, and it isn’t a huge investment for parents. Everybody wins, even the fish.
- Nets are pretty important. Don’t get caught like we were with a fish food-tastrophe and no net. When the three year old of the family decides the fish is REALLY hungry and dumps far too much food in the tank, you need to be able to remove the fish (and snail) to do a thorough cleaning. If you don’t have a net it makes the task more difficult.
- Water Test Strips the PH and ammonia levels of the water are important and can cause problems for your kid’s fish if they are off-balance. It isn’t necessary to test the levels all of the time but weekly wouldn’t be a bad idea. This will help with the care of the fish.
- Light is actually something that fish need. We know that most people think that fish live in dark water and don’t need natural light or even artificial light. That is not accurate. If you are getting a small Betta starter tank then we would suggest placing the tank in a well-lit area and maybe even putting a small table lamp next to them to give a little extra light in the mornings and evening. If you are planning to get a bigger tank then a tank light would be a good idea.
- Thermometer/Heater as with the light situation, you will not necessarily need a thermometer or heater for small Betta tank but for a larger tank you will want to have these items to ensure the comfort of your fish. Fish do not like to be coldso a heater in the winter is beneficial but you will need a thermometer to monitor the temperature because they don’t like to be overly hot either.
Set Up Your Tank
Once you have picked a good starter fish for your child that will be somewhat easy to care for, and you have decided how involved you want to be it is time to get you tank and set it up. Setting up your tank 24 to 48 hours before you bring your fish home the best way to do this.
Fish can be sensitive to environmental changes depending on the breed of fish so having the tank full functioning, water temperature right, and all of the accessories cleaned and placed before you populate the tank will set your child up for success.
This will help prevent a healthy fish from taking a turn for the worst and not surviving the first night in the tank.
Care and Keeping of Fish
While fish are known for being really low maintenance they really do require a specific kind of care and there are things that can not be forgotten or your kid’s fish tank experience will be short-lived.
- Tank Cleaning sounds scarier than it is. For a small Betta tank that has no filter, the water needs to be changed every other week. This does not mean that you empty all of the water and put the fish in a cup and hope they survive the traumatic experience. You and your child will need to remove ⅔ of the water in the tank. The new water that you will replace it with needs to be pretreated and pretty close to the same temperature. As long as there isn’t a significant difference in the temperature then it will be fine. For a filtered tank the cleaning and changing of the water will happen less frequently but when it does happen it will be a bigger task.
Don’t skimp on this. A fish with a clean tank is a happy and healthy fish for the most part. The stress of living in a dirty tank is far worse than the stress of changing the water.
- Food is essential to any life form on this planet and fish do like to eat. The appropriate food for the breed of fish is extremely important. We have a Betta fish in one tank and guppies in another, they do not eat the same food. Yes, we have to buy two different kinds of food. That is okay. It isn’t any different from buying your dog one food and your cat other food. The person that works in the fish department of your local pet store will be able to tell you what food your fish needs.
- Watching the health of the fish is sometimes overlooked because if a fish gets sick what would you even be able to do about it. But most of the time if you pay attention to the way your fish behaves you will see small differences when they come up. The first thing to do when your fish acts odd or unhealthy is to test the water. The pet store will have ways to test the Ph of the water. If the Ph is abnormal then you will need to change the water and possibly use different water treatment. Fish in captivity can’t care for themselves and rely completely of the owner. This is a great tool for teaching your kid how to take care of a living thing.
Best Tanks for 5 to 7-year-olds
A tank set up for a younger elementary-aged child is something that will be a little more simple and easy to care for but has the potential to grow. With this age, it is important to understand that you as a parent, will in fact be very hands-on for the most part. But really what is best?
This is really one of the best and easiest ways to start. Kits can come in small tank sizes or larger sizes so you have more freedom to choose where you want to start. They come with everything you will need to get started on the right foot and typically come with coupons to help with the cost of continuing care of the fish and the tank.
If you want to start very small and simple and have a fish and tank that will be, typically, low maintenance. For this age group of children, something simple would be best if you, as the parent, want to be a little more hands-off and give you child the bulk of the responsibility.
Best Tanks for 8 to 12-year-olds
This age group of older children can usually handle a tank that requires more care and maybe has a little more of a difficult setup. These children may be able to take care of a larger set up with more fish but you will need to make that decision based on the personality of your child. They will still need to be monitored and guided to make sure that the fish and the tank are not neglected.
Half Moon Tank Designs
This is a fantastic tank for kids. They typically come in a three-gallon size so it is a mid-sized tank that doesn’t take up much space because of the flat back. They are very easy to care for and clean plus they have plenty of room for smaller fish like guppies and Bettas. This tank can also house snails or other tank cleaning creatures.
We have one of these tanks and have been very pleased by the quality and ease of care.
360 View Tanks
There are few of these types of tanks on the market and for the most part, they are good tanks, to begin with. You can put them anywhere you want with a great view of the fish as they swim around.
They are pretty easy to clean and care for and you can find them with starter kits so you can start with everything you need. All tanks, however, have flaws such as faulty lids or noisy filters but those things can be replaced and there isn’t a tank on the market that doesn’t have any issues.
Typical Parent Commitment
We know that when parents get a pet of any kind for their child, they really don’t want to be very involved in the care of the creature. This is their child’s project, not theirs’s but depending on the age of your child, you may need to be involved on some level. After all, this is a great teaching opportunity and by nature, a kid doesn’t typically teach themselves.
If your child is in the five to seven-year-old range then you will likely be more hands-on than you would like. If you would rather not have much to do with the fish keeping experience than we would advise you to wait to get your kid a fish tank until they are older and more capable of caring for the fish and tank independently.
Fish tanks and aquariums are great for younger kids but they won’t be able to care for them on their own. Your commitment to the fish would have to be greater than your child’s commitment when they are younger. That doesn’t mean you don’t get them one but evaluate carefully whether or not you can make the commitment.
For example, our commitment is very small because our child is very committed to her fish. Since she is only eight years old we handle the changing of the water but she does everything else, including the research when she wants a new fish.
Difficult Tanks to Care For
These may sound like a great idea and they are really fun looking but be very cautious with novelty tanks. These can be notoriously hard to care for. They are typically oddly shaped which makes cleaning difficult at best. They are not usually user friendly.
However, as the parent, this is your call. These tanks can work but you will be very involved in the care because it would be too hard for a five to seven-year-old.
- The Waterfall Globe Tank is actually listed as one of the best tanks for kids but this is a novelty tank that is actually not a great idea for the fish. The water flow that comes from the filter is far too strong. This tank will also be a little difficult to clean. It is fun to look at but it may not be a good idea if you want something easy and low maintenance.
- Princess Aquarium Kit. It is really cute and very tempting to purchase but it is very small. Too small for even the easy to care for Betta. One Betta fish would not have enough space in this small but adorable tank.
- Artificial Tropical Fish Aquarium. Another tank that is fun to look at because it is colorful and has fake tropical fish in it but is not really practical. It tends to make annoying sounds and has inferior parts.