Ways Kids Can Help Care for PetsPublished December 15, 2008
It's a match made in heaven: you have a child who loves to run around the yard, and a dog that loves to run around the yard. Have you ever considered that your family pet might be more than a play companion for your children? Taking responsibility for an animal is a powerful learning tool for children. Read on for ways kids can help take care of the family pet.It's a match made in heaven: you have a child who loves to run around the yard, and a dog that loves to run around the yard. Have you ever considered that your family pet might be more than a play companion for your children? A dog, or cat or fish is also a wonderful opportunity to teach your child responsibility and compassion. Taking responsibility for an animal is a powerful learning tool for children. Teaching a child to care for a pet, however, is as time-consuming and important as giving the care yourself, so don't view it as passing one of the household chores, like the laundry, on to your child.
According to the article, "Pets and Children" posted on the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) website, "a child who learns to care for an animal, and treat it kindly and patiently, gets invaluable training in learning to treat people the same way. Careless treatment of animals is unhealthy for both the pet and the child involved." If your child in any way harms the animal, either through abuse or neglect, intervene immediately.
There are some guidelines set forth by the AACAP that you can follow to increase the likelihood of a successful guardianship that benefits everyone involved: children younger than four years of age should always be supervised by a grown-up while with an animal; children younger than 10 years of age should not be expected to care for a larger animal (cat or dog) on their own; parents should always oversee a pet's care, even if they believe their child is old enough for the responsibility; children should be reminded "in a gentle, not scolding way" that animals need food, water and exercise; if a child becomes lax in his or her responsibilities, a parent should be prepared to take over the responsibility; and lastly, as with all things, "parents serve as role models. Children learn responsible pet ownership by observing their parents' behavior."
Begin by identifying what degree of responsibility your child is ready for, and match that with your pet's needs. Food and water, exercise, care and love are the elemental needs of a pet that we, as owners, address on a daily basis. Giving your child a schedule for providing food and fresh water is a simple yet important job. Exercising and pet-training activities are also very valuable as they teach children "humane treatment and effective communication," according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), but be sure that off-leash play is done in an enclosed yard.
Nail clipping, grooming, cleaning cages, tanks or litter boxes, and picking up after dogs are responsibilities that an adult must do or carefully supervise so that safety and hygiene are never compromised. For these instances, the HSUS wisely advises parents that, "although certain pet-care activities must be handled by adults, you can still include your children by explaining why and what you're doing."
In the process of caring for the animal, the bond your child has with the pet will undoubtedly strengthen. This is a healthy and normal response. Hopefully, that beloved pet will live a long and happy life. At the end, there is one last lesson that your child will absorb: loss. To experience death on an intimate level like this is difficult yet unavoidable. The attachment your child will have developed, as a caregiver, may make the loss very painful. Be very, very clear with the child that they could not prevent the death and certainly did not cause it. Sometimes continuing the role of guardian in the preparation after death can be a natural end to their role and relationship with the pet - selecting music to be played or a toy to be buried with the pet, or commemorating the pet in some other way. This may not be appropriate for your child, or even something they need or are ready for. Just as with the responsibility for the pet's needs - age, maturity and personality should be considered.
Sharing pet care with a child is a great way for a child to learn a lot about animals and responsibilities, but remember, for parents, it's still a lot of work.
Do your kids help take care of your pets? Share your suggestions or comments on my.petside.com by posting a message.