If you’ve got kids, at one point or another they are most likely going to ask you if they can have a pet. The request will undoubtedly come with the solid promise that if their wish is granted, they will take on the responsibility of caring for the new addition to the family.
Anywhere from a few days to a few weeks later it will become obvious that, in reality, you are the one caring for your pet while your child takes advantage of the happy play time and leaves behind the more mundane chores that come along with pet ownership.
Most parents with both kids and pets have gone through this scenario at least once, if not more. Deep down, we all know that the promise of taking full responsibility is not a lie, but it’s not a promise that is going to be kept either.
In the end, most of the pet’s required care is going to fall on the parents, which is probably as it should be. But still, keeping children involved in the care of their pets can be a great way to teach them responsibility, among other things. Unfortunately, keeping them involved is not always an easy thing to do.
So what can you do to keep your kids involved in more than just play time with their pets? Here are some tips to get them to hold up at least part of their end of the bargain.
Match The Right Pet to Your Child
It’s important to consider your child’s age and the type of pet that will make a good companion for them.
For example, all puppies are cute and cuddly, and any 8-year-old would just love one. However, a puppy is going to grow much faster than your child. An 8-year-old might be able to help raise a Miniature Schnauzer, but he isn’t going to be able to handle or help with a German Shepherd for very long.
Talk Before You Get a Pet
Talk to your child about exactly what will be involved in caring for a pet before you go out and get one. Let them know what you would expect them to do and what could happen if they don’t do it.
It’s very likely that your child has no idea what it takes to care for a dog, for example. The time to explain about picking up poop, taking baths and going for walks is not when the dog is already in your home.
It’s also a good idea to explain consequences of neglect from the point of view of the animal. For example, tell your child that if he doesn’t feed the dog properly, the dog will be very hungry and could get sick. Telling your child that you are going to get rid of the dog if he doesn’t feed it isn’t going to teach him anything real about pet care. Making the pet chores about caring for the pet is much more effective than turning it into a command that must be obeyed.
Assign Age Appropriate Tasks
You’ll need to have realistic expectations about exactly what your child can do, and their ability to do it on their own. A 7 or 8-year-old can probably handle the upkeep of food and water for a dog or cat, but he’s not going to be a good candidate for walking a dog alone or cleaning a cat’s litter box.
It’s also very likely that even a child with the best intentions is going to need reminders that things need to be done.
Help Them Form a Habit
Taking care of a pet is something that has to become a habit. Feeding and cleaning are not things to be done only when the animal asks, they have to be done regularly.
Help your kids by setting up a schedule for their part of the pet chores and writing it down. Don’t just tell them the dog has to be fed every morning by 9am; give them a calendar they can use to check off each day.
Giving them a reference to follow, and maybe even a reward for not missing any chores, will help them to form a habit rather than looking at it as extra work they need to remember to do.
Give Them Fun Things Too
Caring for a pet is not all about cleaning up messes, dishing out food and going to the vet. Pets need attention, activity and interaction too. Take advantage of these things to show your kids that caring for an animal can be fun too.
Adding fun things to the daily pet care checklist can make the overall chores seem a lot less like work. There are plenty of fun “chores” you can tack on to encourage your kids to keep up with it. Here are a few examples:
- Play ball with the dog outside
- Learn or practice a trick
- Give your pet a treat
- Brush your dog or cat
- Give your pet a belly rub
The main thing to remember is that you need to make things as easy as possible for your child. By nature, they’re going to lose some interest and move on to other things. They’re going to get wrapped up in something else and forget to feed the dog every now and then. They’re also just going to be lazy and neglect to do things sometimes.
Overall though, the best strategy is to help your child develop empathy for the animal and understand that it needs care. Your child is much more likely to remember to feed the dog if he knows the dog will be hungry and uncomfortable if it doesn’t eat. He’s also much more likely to feel bad about missing a feeding if he feels like he’s done something wrong to the dog, rather than feeling like he forgot to do a chore his parents told him he has to do.
Hopefully these tips will help you, but, in the end, you have to accept the fact that most of the pet care responsibility is probably going to fall on you as the parent. You will either have to do most of it yourself, or at least remind your kids to keep up with their end of the agreement. Either way, does it really matter who’s doing most of the work if you’ve got a happy and healthy pet that helps to keep your family healthy and happy too?