You can teach your kids to care for themselves, making them attend to their personal hygiene, clean their rooms, put their dishes in the sink or dishwasher, and even do their own laundry at some point. But until they learn to care for someone or something else, they won’t truly understand the weight of responsibility. And there’s no better way to teach them than by charging them with the care of a family pet. Some parents my shy away from such a lesson because of the devastating outcome should children fail in their duties. But if you help them along the way and then trust them to do the job when they’re ready, you’ll build their confidence and give them compassion along with a growing sense of responsibility. Here are just a few areas of pet care that you might consider entrusting to your children (if not all of them).
- Feeding. Obviously, this is the most important part of caring for any living being, but it is also the easiest for most kids to take on. In most cases, all they have to do is remember to put fresh food and water into the pet bowls every day (barring a special diet). Once they become familiar with the schedule, it should be like second-nature to them. You may want to check in frequently (at least in the beginning) to make sure they’re not forgetting.
- Walking. This activity will not only get both your kids and pets exercising; it can also deepen their bond (along with playtime) and teach your kids a valuable lesson about neglect. If they fail to walk the dog, there will be a most unpleasant surprise waiting for them. While this isn’t really fair to the animal (who has no choice but to relieve himself in the house, even though he’s probably been trained not to), it’s pretty likely that it will only happen once if you make your kids clean up the resultant mess.
- Hygiene. Dogs, cats, and other pets have various hygienical needs. Dogs, in particular, will need brushing, bathing, and clipping (hair and/or nails). Cats need to have their boxes scooped and rodents and birds need to have their cages cleaned. Even fish will have algae problems if their tanks aren’t scrubbed periodically. This is not the fun part of pet ownership, but it is something that kids will have to get used to if they don’t want their furry (or scaly) little friends to suffer from neglect.
- Training. Younger children probably won’t be able to take part in this process, but older kids should learn how to properly control an animal (especially if it is a large breed). By starting them out together, with neither having preconceived notions, you can get them in sync, train an obedient dog, and teach kids the correct way to interact with their pets.
- Pet containment. Your children must be aware of the consequences of lax behavior concerning keeping pets within boundaries. You may have gates in the house and a wireless dog fence around the perimeter of your yard, but they will do nothing to stop your pet from getting into trouble if your child forgets to put the gates back when they go through or neglects to activate the collar when they let the dog outside.