Kids will tell you anything you want to hear when they want to get a pet. The first thing out of their mouths will be that they will “take care of it.” Most children have no idea about the responsibility of a pet. Adults, on the other hand, know plenty. And they also know that they will most likely have to take up some of the duties of their errant children. Kids often have good intentions when it comes to getting an animal, but when the care of the animal starts interfering with their social life, and after the novelty wears off, they will start fighting over “whose turn it is” to take care of the dog or cat.
If you have more than one child who wants a pet, make sure that you tell them in advance what will be expected of them when it comes to the care for the animals. You will have to outline all of the chores that will be required of the children. You can even put a chart on the refrigerator and make a schedule so there are no questions as to who does what.
While you will want to make sure that your children live up to their responsibilities when taking care of their pets, be prepared to pick up the slack when your child “forgets” to care for the animal. Unlike your child’s room, which he or she may also neglect, the pet is a living thing. It will do for you to “teach your child a lesson” by allowing the creature to have an unclean environment in which to live or not have food and water.
You are better off to care for the animal when your child forgets and penalize your child for not taking care of the pet. There will be, of course, some instances when your child cannot take care of the pet. You certainly don’t want to send your child out with a fever to walk the family dog because it is “his turn,” nor do you want to make your child go out late at night with the dog or in inclement weather. Be prepared to have to care for this animal yourself in some ways.
Punishing children by taking away their own food to show them what it is like not to have food because they forgot to feed the cat or the dog is also cruel and ineffective. You should never use food as a punishment or a reward for children. It is better to take away a privilege for the evening, such as television, as a penalty for forgetting to feed the dog or cat.
You can also take your child to the local library so that they can read up on animal care. Make sure that your children learn as much as possible about the type of pet that they have and the appropriate care. Thanks to the internet, they may even be able to join some sites for children with pet owners and interact with other children who also have pets. As always, when allowing your children to use the internet, use careful supervision.
When you take your pet to the vet, make sure that the children come along, if at all possible. Taking your pet to the vet is part of the process of caring for the animal and your children should be part of this experience. Make sure that you involve your children in all aspects of the life of your pet as it will not only be a learning experience for your children but a lesson in caring as well.
In addition to caring for their pets physically, your children must also learn to care for the animals emotionally. This is particularly true in the case of dogs, who really need attention. All too often, children get a dog, enjoy playing with the animal, and get bored with the pet. They tend to begin to neglect the animal and no longer want to spend time with their pet. They may go through the motions of taking care of the pet, but they may be fighting you on it and some children will even suggest getting rid of the dog to avoid the work.
Children have to realize before you get the dog, that getting a pet is not like getting a pen at the store. You don’t just toss it out once it runs out of ink. A pet is supposed to be your pet for life. Your children should know before the pet comes into the house, that this is not just a “whim.” That getting an animal is a commitment that is not to be taken lightly. You are talking about the life of a living creature. That kitten or puppy may look cute in the pet store, but once it becomes a cat or a dog, it may no longer be as amusing. While a cat does not require constant attention, this can be a heartbreaking situation for a dog.
Make sure that your children interact with their pets often and include them in outdoor activities. As your children get older, they may have to spend less time with their pets, as they will have school and friend obligations. This is a natural process of growing up, but they should still make the effort not to neglect their animal companions.