September 9, 2015
Teaching responsible pet care to children is an act that pays off in dividends. Not only does it take the sole obligation of pet ownership off of a parent’s shoulders, but routine pet chores teach children responsibility and compassion. Responsible pet care may also aid in the development of a child’s healthy self-esteem and maturity. Although kids and pets usually become fast friends, trusting children with pet care duties also helps animals view and respect younger family members as leaders and essential caregivers.
Teaching Kids About Responsible Pet Care
Start teaching children to be good pet owners by explaining the reasons why responsible pet care is so important. Help children understand what can happen if a family pet is not properly fed or does not get enough exercise. Make sure that these conversations are age-appropriate, but be honest in letting children know that neglecting pet duties can really cause a furry friend needless suffering.
Of course, your main goal is to teach responsible pet care, but these conversations will also help children develop a greater sense of compassion. As the realities of pet neglect settle in, your children will naturally want to avoid these consequences at all costs. This greater sense of onus for someone else may also help foster a child’s maturity, overall.
Assign Age-Appropriate Pet Care
Be careful not to overwhelm children with key pet care duties before they are mature enough to handle them. Teaching responsible pet care will most certainly require you to know how many jobs your child can handle and when it is time to increase the work load or even decrease a few until a child matures. Some examples of age-appropriate pet care include:
- Young Children (2-5 years)
- Playing with pets to ensure proper exercise and socialization
- Daily petting or brushing a cat or dog to teach important grooming skills
- School Aged Children (5+ years)
- Walking the family dog for exercise
- Playing with a cat or dog at a designated time every day
- A routine after-school feeding schedule
Of course, teenagers can handle all of the chores mentioned above and then some. While they won’t love cleaning litter boxes or walking the dog before heading to school, let them know how much their help is not only wanted, but needed and appreciated. Within reason, a reward system works just as well with teenagers as it does with younger children. Ditto for singing their praises to others and reassuring them that they are doing a great job.
Teens may also need extra encouragement with fitting pet care duties into a busy schedule. Help your teenager prioritize her time in such a way that pet activities become a daily habit. With older children, it is important to monitor pet care responsibilities, but avoid picking up too much of their slack should they begin to forget chores – conveniently or otherwise. Instead, revisit conversations about the consequences of pet neglect and ask how you can help them perform better.
Create Pet Care Schedules Together
When identifying what needs to be done and when, let your children help plan the days and times when they’ll be performing their pet care duties. The goal here is to let them have input and ownership in a pet’s scheduling as opposed to just having chores assigned to them. Making adjustments when needed, children this process should eventually help children develop better organizational skills.
Monitor Kids and Pets Closely
When teaching children about responsible pet care, do not assume it to be an overnight process. Closely monitor children as they perform care-related chores and step in to help when necessary. A checklist on the fridge can help kids settle into new daily routines, as well as help you monitor how well they’re keeping up with chores. A printed list also helps children remember exactly what is expected of them and can offer a sense of accomplishment as they develop a track record of good daily results.
Remember to provide children when gentle correction when needed. Never show frustration when a chore is missed, but remind children about why pet chores are so important and of what can happen to the family pet if that chore isn’t consistently performed. Do not scold a child for missed pet care duties, but use missteps as an opportunity to teach, instead.
Reward Children For Their Good Efforts
Periodically reward children for good performance when teaching them about responsible pet care. Even if they don’t perform perfectly at first, encourage them for making a genuine effort. Rewards may be in the form of an increased allowance, a token gift or even something as simple as extra play time before homework. Be creative and think of rewards that your child will value and that will foster a sense of achievement for a job well done.
Remember to also openly reward children with your praise. As your children make progress toward better and more responsible pet care, let them hear you indulging in a bit of bragging to friends and family members about what a great job they are doing and how proud you are of their efforts.
Let Your Child Have a Say In Your Pet’s Care
Regularly speak to your children about responsible pet care. Ask them questions about how they feel they are progressing in their chores. Also, ask about areas where they believe they can grow. Listen to their input and, if necessary, adjust duties that they feel are too difficult or offer to help them in areas where they may be struggling. For example, if a child frequently forgets to check chores off of a list, offer to set a daily timer to remind them until they can remember without prompting.
Let your child also have a voice in training a new pet and even selecting toys and rewards for the pet. Giving the child a greater sense of ownership with the animal will help in solidifying their bond and feelings of responsibility. It will also help your pet understand how important your child is to its life and well-being.
When it comes to veterinary and grooming appointments, allow your children to accompany you as often as possible. Let them speak to pet sitters and other pet care professionals who provide services to your animal and encourage children to ask questions as they arise. At every turn, remember that the goal is to raise a child who understands the importance of quality pet care and one who is places a priority on good pet health.
Throughout the process of teaching kids about responsible pet care, remind your children of the trust that you have in their abilities. Let them know that chores are not simply duties that have to be performed on schedule, but that you are relying on them as much as the pet is and that you know that they will do a great job. As children perform these tasks, many will feel a sense of pride and greater responsibility because you are entrusting important duties to them.
An Added Benefit
In addition to teaching kids about responsible pet care, allowing them to perform pet-related chores helps teach your resident fur buddy that your child is to be regarded and respected as a leader in your home. Pets will eventually understand that children are not just fun playmates, but that they are essential to their happiness and care.
So, as you can see, responsible pet care is something that children can achieve with time, practice and encouragement. Teaching kids how to take a more active role in your pet’s life is also as important to your fur kids as much as it is to your actual children. Whether you are starting fresh with a new pet or teaching your children about responsible pet care with an aging pet, stick with the process until healthy habits are formed. As your child develops into a great pet owner, know that you are instilling valuable life lessons which can benefit your child for a lifetime. Not to mention, you are contributing to a future generation of quality pet care providers!
How Did You Teach Responsible Pet Care?
We’re sure some of you have already traveled this road with your children. How did you go about teaching them to embrace pet chores and take their responsibilities seriously? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? Lastly, how did enlisting your child in your pet’s care aid in your child’s mental and emotional development?
Are you currently struggling with teaching a child about responsible pet care? Do you have questions or need advice? Our Fetch! Pet Care community is happy to keep the discussion going if you’ll be so kind as to leave your comments and questions here before you go.