How To Teach Children To Be Responsible For Their Pet
"To educate our people, and especially our children, to humane
attitudes and actions toward living things is to preserve and strengthen
our national heritage and the moral values we champion in the world."
- John F. Kennedy
Having pets is a very good way to help teach our children about
responsibilities and the devotion it requires to care for living
things. If they are good pet owners, chances are they will make
responsible adults and even caring parents. We have discussed "The
Link", which is the relationship between children who are cruel
to pets and a later life as violent adults. While no studies are
really possible, it makes sense to assume that the opposite is true
as well. Caring for pets at a young age certainly must be a good
indicator of good parenting skills to come.
So how can we teach our children to be responsible pet owners?
Certainly no easy answer exists. But let me start with this premise:
Do not have unreasonable expectations. Kids are still kids. They
can only absorb so much in the course of their busy days. That is
why when parents ask me what type of pet they should get, I always
ask them what type of pet THEY want, not their children. Ultimately
the parents are the ones left with the majority of the responsibility
for the pets. Do not get a dog for the kids if you would rather
have a cat. Don't get a puppy if you, as the parent, do not have
the time for it. To teach your children to be responsible pet owners,
you have to be one yourself. I think most parents make two mistakes:
they underestimate how much work some pets can be (such as a young
puppy) and they over-estimate how much work others in the family
will do in regards to the new pet (this seems to happen a lot with
moms and dads, too. Many a mom comes into my office complaining
about dad. Good thing psychology was my minor in college!).
With your children it obviously depends on their age, but start
simple. Here is a list of things to have the children learn early
on when you acquire a puppy or kitten:
- Have them pick up all small items that the animal can potentially
swallow. This makes a nice excuse to keep the house cleaner.
- Put them in charge of being sure there is fresh, clean water at
- At feeding time, show them how you measure the food and allow
them to place the food in the bowl. You can even have them start
a chart of how the puppy or kitten is eating.
- With puppies have your kids participate with you in the walking
and housebreaking. But do this as a team, don't send them on their
own. For the kittens, have them assist you in changing or cleaning
the litter box.
- Have them escort you to the veterinarian's office for check-ups.
This is a time they really get a feel for the seriousness of their
job (if your veterinarian does not seem to like you bringing the
children, find another veterinarian!)
If you start with these basic steps and can master them, you are
doing great. To expect much more in the beginning would be too ambitious.
If the children are older (ten and above), you can then start to
put them in charge of the following:
- Changing or scooping the litter boxes.
- Actually measuring out the food and being totally responsible
for the feedings.
- Walking the pet, even by themselves.
- Doing "poop patrol" of the yard.
Remember, you are the role models. You cannot tell the kids to
do these things because you are lazy and do not want to do them
yourselves. You have to be committed to doing them because these
are living creatures that you are responsible for. Have the right
attitude and your children will hopefully pick up on this and follow
So in summary, pick small goals that are achievable. Help show
the kids how to succeed and when they have done that, you can move
on to the next goal.
Good luck and remember if you have any problems or questions, feel
free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As always, I'm happy to help your pets...and their people too.