Get Set For a Pet

Fifty years ago children grew up with animals.  They were taught to care for them and often had responsibilities for animals at a very early age.  When Grandma was a little girl she might have had the job of driving the cows to pasture every morning, and Grandpa may have helped with branding cattle or shoeing horses.  In our society today children can still learn that pet ownership means taking care of your pets and being responsible for them and thus have the positive responsibility opportunities of our ancestors.

Before being given a pet, children need to know they will be expected to care for their animal.  They need to be taught exactly what will be expected of them.  It might also be decided what will happen if the child does not keep his or her end of the bargain.  Making these decisions beforehand makes it easier to work through responsibility issues latter.

Together you can research the needs of the particular pet you have chosen.  The internet or the library are a great places to begin.  When your child finds out for himself what needs to be done to care for a pet, he will likely take more ownership.  List the daily and long-term needs of the pet you have chosen. For example, a dog would need daily food, water, exercise, and attention.  Just as children need frequent love and attention so do pets.  Assign regular playtime for your pets as well as exercise.  Long-term, they will also require such things as health care, bathing, and training.  It is important to decide upfront who is will pay for these costs and be responsible for which of these tasks, so decide with your child exactly what activities he or she will be responsible for and which ones you will do.

You will need to carefully teach your child how to do each process.  If they are going to be responsible for food, show them where the food is kept and how much to feed the animal.  Decide together where to feed their pet and how many times a day.  Make sure they are clear on the instructions.  You will need to be careful to match the job to the child’s abilities.  We made the mistake of giving our colorblind child the job of pooper-scooper.  Since he couldn’t tell brown from green he didn’t succeed very well.

If the child is old enough, you could have him make a written list of his duties so he can check himself.  No matter what method is chosen for responsibility, parents should be shadow leaders. Remember, as a parent your job is following up not take over.  You should not do the job for them if they forget.  Instead you should remind them, encourage them, and occasionally help them.  But in the end, if all parties have decided it is the child’s responsibility, then the responsibility should ultimately rest there.

Next time your child begs for a pet, teach him what it means to be a pet owner. With a little training, your child can learn how to help care for a pet.  Be patient at the beginning for although children can learn about pet ownership beforehand and are often very motivated at the beginning, make sure you have a long discussion on pet ownership and your rules prior to getting the next member of your family.

Just as Grandpa and Grandma were responsible enough for their animal-caring jobs, your children can also learn to be responsible for their pets.


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