Learning to care for a family pet is a rite of passage for kids. And having the kids badger you for a pet for months on end is a rite of passage for parents. It might be a while before you decide that your family is ready to care for a pet, but when you do you need the children to pitch in. They’ve promised that they’re going to help feed the cat, walk the dog or clean out the rabbit, but now how do you make sure they can do it? And not only should they do it, but do well and keep doing it after the first couple of months. To teach your kids how to care for their new pet and make sure that they want to do it of their own volition, there are lots of things you can do. Educating them about their pet’s needs and encouraging them to feel empathy for and connect with animals will help them form a bond and care about caring for their new friend.
Choosing the Right Pet
If you want to help your children get off to a good start, you should first choose the right pet for your family. There are lots of things to take into account, not just which ones the kids think are cutest. First, you need to think about your home and how much time you have to care for a pet. Is your house or apartment suitable for a dog or cat, and if you rent your home, are pets allowed? If you get a dog, you should ideally have a backyard or another easily accessible outdoor space. Outdoor cats need somewhere safe to roam, away from main roads while indoor cats need a stimulating environment. Some pets need special living quarters, such as tropical fish, reptiles or rodents.
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You should think about who can take care of your pet when you can’t, such as when you go on vacation. Can you afford to pay for insurance, vet bills, and general care costs? It’s important to think about how much time you all have to dedicate to a pet. Some dog breeds need walking multiple times a day. Another thing to think about is whether to get a rescue pet. Buying a puppy or kitten can be a lot of work, but if you get a pet from a shelter you can guarantee what their personality is like.
When you’ve settled on a pet, you can start getting ready for their arrival before you bring them home. Depending on your child’s age, you can do some activities with them to teach them more about caring for animals. For example, you might make some pretend animals and look after them for the day. Or you could practice doing some of the tasks you’ll need to do for your new friend, like filling their food and water bowls or changing their bedding. Now would be a good time to think about the routine care you’ll need to give your pet, such as taking them for vaccinations. There are lots of things you will need to do regularly to keep them healthy that you can teach your children about. For example, if you get a dog, they need to be wormed, and you should use something like Frontline for dogs to prevent fleas.
You can go through the house with your children and make sure it’s safe and set up for the new arrival. Use the opportunity to emphasize the importance of keeping everything tidy, so there’s nothing dangerous that your pet could accidentally eat. You might teach the kids about closing the puppy gate or keeping the cat out of the kitchen.
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There can be lots to learn about taking care of a new animals, but kids are usually happy to pay attention. You might need to learn a few things too, so you and your children can do it together. You can buy some books, both for adults and kids, and use the internet to help you find useful information. Reading all about how and why you should care for your new pet will help everyone to understand their responsibilities.
Learning to Respect Your Pet
When your pet comes home, one of the most important lessons is learning to read the signals they give and respond appropriately. It’s essential for kids to learn when to leave their new friend alone and when they’re welcoming a stroke or play session. This is for the happiness and safety of both your kids and your pet. You should teach them how to interact with their pet gently and respectfully, and lead by example.
Before you get your pet, your kids should understand the responsibility that comes with it. And once you have it at home, you need to reinforce that expectation. You will probably find your own way of making sure the kids help out where they need to. For example, you might require them to do their chores before they can play. When you set them tasks, it’s important to make sure that they’re appropriate for your kids’ ages and abilities. For example, most children can measure out some dry food and tip it into a bowl (or at least do the second part). But younger children will need help with things like cleaning out cat litter or rabbit hutches and walking the dog.
Emphasize Love and Affection
An essential part of learning to care for a pet is forming a bond that leads your children to want to look after it on their own. They should be able to feel empathy and affection and connect those feelings with ensuring that their pet is healthy and happy. If they care about how their cat, dog, guinea pig, fish or any other animals is feeling, they’re more likely to help look after them.
Getting a family pet is a big step, but it can also be one of the best things you do. Your new animal can become part of the family and will be a fond memory when your children look back on their childhoods.