Teaching Your Child to Be a Responsible Pet Owner
You want your child to learn responsibility, compassion, and the joy of giving and receiving love. One way to help your child learn these valuable life lessons is to adopt a four-legged family member and have your child absorb some care-giving responsibility for the newest member of the family. Here are some tips to accomplish that.
- First, let your child bond with the pet. Your child will need to feel a connection to the pet before life lessons will be meaningful for him/her.
- Teach your child about what your pet needs of his/her human family. For example, fresh food and water daily, lots of love and attention, play time, sleep time, personal space, periodic visits to the doctor (veterinarian), and respect for the pet’s reasonable personal boundaries (i.e., when s/he doesn’t feel like being petted, etc.). Draw a parallel between the needs of the pet and your child’s needs . . . help your child identify with the pet and the importance of getting those needs met.
- Talk to your child about the privilege of care-giving for a loved one. Tell him/her how much you love attending to him/her (your child); the way you feel knowing that you are loving him/her, responsible for him/her, and fostering relationship with him/her; and the value of love nurtured and reciprocated. Ask your child what pet care-giving responsibilities s/he would like to have. Does s/he want to take the puppy for daily walks/clean the kitten’s litter box daily? Would your child prefer to feed and water the new pet? Does s/he want to commit to at least a half hour of active play with the pet each day?
- Ensure that your child follows through on the chosen responsibilities. All children will, on occasion, fail to meet these responsibilities adequately. In these circumstances, let your child know that your pet depends on them to get his/her needs met. This is a relationship between your child and his/her four-legged sibling: it is a matter of trust and love between them . . . not just another household chore for your child. If your child cannot fulfill his/her responsibilities to the pet, then s/he should let you know so that you can step in at least temporarily and get the pet’s needs met yourself or through a third party. (For example, if your son has a big game scheduled at a time when the puppy is due for his evening walk, your son should let you know so that you can arrange for a neighbor child or your babysitter to walk the puppy on your son’s behalf.) If your child persists in failing to live up to his/her responsibilities, explain to him/her how his/her choices have (or would have) adversely affected his four-legged sibling. Help your child understand how getting his/her own needs met is important to him . . . and how his/her four-legged sibling feels the same way. Ask him/her if s/he would like to have different pet responsibilities (i.e., trading walking duty for feeding and watering duty). You may need to employ redirective techniques such as time outs to help your child understand that there are consequences for his/her poor choices. If, after multiple attempts, your child does not experience a sense of responsibility for the pet, then his/her responsibilities toward the pet should be removed and traded for non-pet responsibilities. Perhaps your child is too young for this lesson. Wait a while and try again.
By following these tips, you can foster a bond between your two-legged and four-legged children that will be a bonding, nurturing life lesson for all involved.