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Kids and Pets: Teaching Responsibility through Care

by SarahD on May 14, 2011

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Teaching Children to Care for Their Pets

There are all kinds of ways you could devise to teach your kids the essential life skill of responsibility.  You could make them clean their rooms, trust them to practice their instruments every day, or give them a patch in the garden to grow fruits, veggies, or flowers of their choice (no watering equals dead plants).  But there’s really no better way to apprise your children of a responsible attitude than to entrust them with the care of the family pets.  While this can seem like a dicey situation to most parents, who may simply resort to “doing it themselves”, you’re not doing your kids any favors.  By teaching them how to properly care for an animal and then letting them do the work, you’ll not only instill in them a sense of responsibility, you’ll also give them confidence, compassion, and a whole host of other characteristics that will benefit them later in life.  Here are just a few ways you can help them along.

1.  Feeding.  This is undeniably the most important aspect of caring for any living being.  Without regular and timely feeding, pets will feel the discomfort of hunger, suffer malnourishment, and potentially even die (although it’s unlikely it will get to this point if you’re paying attention).  However, it’s important the children understand all of the possible consequences of their negligence, no matter how unlikely, since there will come a time when you’re not there to back them up.

2.  Cleaning and clipping.  All pets require some kind of hygienical maintenance.  Even cats, who more or less bathe themselves, need to have their nails clipped and their litter-box scooped regularly.  Pets with cages or tanks will need their environment cleaned.  And dogs will have to be brushed, washed, and have their hair and nails trimmed.  Although young children won’t be able to do all of this on their own, you can help them until they are capable of taking on the tasks independently.

3.  Playtime.  Animals need exercise, especially if they are trapped in the house all day while everyone is away at work or school.  So if your children are responsible for seeing to the needs of your pets, they need to make time to walk them or play with them each day.  Your kids may not think this is an important part of pet care, but ask them how they would like to be stuck in their room with no toys or companions all day long, and then tell them that their pets feel the same way.

4.  Training.  While you can certainly go about training the pets on your own, it’s better to involve your children in the process so that they can not only see the proper way to train animals (which will also help to avoid a confusing situation for the pets), but also to teach them how to interact with their pets in a positive and productive manner.

5.  Safety.  The safety of your pets is paramount and you need to get your kids on board with making sure that the animals are secure at all times.  If your pets are indoor animals, have your children help you put in door latches or gates so that they understand which areas are restricted and why.  Or if your dogs are allowed outdoors, get your children to help you install pet containment systems (such as a fence or dog run) so that pets don’t run out in the street and get lost or hit by cars.

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  5. The Competent Babysitter

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