Teaching children the responsibility of caring for pets – Part 11

“Mom, can I have a pet?”

Who knew that six words could entail so much meaning? Taking care of a dog (or a cat, or a rabbit, well, a pet in general) is just like taking care of a baby. Sounds familiar? It does because it’s true, and a lot of people can relate. Just like a baby, a pet cannot fend for itself. It needs to be fed, cleaned after it, and regular baths (well, not if it’s a cat or a fish of course). Also, just like a baby, a pet needs tender loving care. It’s a pretty big responsibility for children, but if you prepare them well enough for it, and you think that they are mature enough to take that responsibility, there is a lot to gain from it, especially the priceless kind that comes in the form of memories, love and companionship. Aside from that, don’t forget how having a pet also helps encourage discipline and a big bulk of responsibility as well.

“Mom, it’s my pet!”

So now that you’ve assessed that your child is mature enough to have his own pet, and you’ve given him one, what now? You don’t just let him name the pet then leave him to take care of it by himself. Especially during the first few weeks, even months. The odds are high that your child will become so excited about his new playmate and will become possessive right off. However, you have to let him know from the start that you’d have to teach him first how to take care of his pet. This way, you will be able to set the rules (such as where to give baths-“Not in the bathtub!”-, restricted areas in the house if there are, who pays for certain things such as toys and other accessories, and so on). This will also teach him the perks of cooperation, of how activities become easier with teamwork. Let him know that you will help him until he can do it on his own.

“As you said, it’s your pet.”

A note of warning: Always remind your child that the sole responsibility should not be passed on to you (except on special circumstances of course, such as him going to camp or getting sick). Always give the child a bigger chunk of the responsibility. For example, tell him that you will buy the food but he should feed his pet and clean up his dishes. If shots are needed for puppies and young pets, give him his own copy of the schedule of shots and tell him to remind you of the date. If a child is mature enough and is open to paying a percentage of the food or accessories for his pet, then this is also a good way for him to learn how to save money as well. Giving him the opportunity to spend for his pet makes him feel more grown up and responsible too. Also, you must never let your child slack off when it comes to cleaning up after his pet. You’ll regret it when you find yourself doing the dirty work for him. Letting him think that you will clean up after all will just open the doors to more days for you cleaning up and eventually being passed on to you. You doing the cleaning up (of poo and pee, of the dishes, of its sleeping area…of the pet itself) will result to a bad thing because the pet will eventually become a play thing for the child, with no responsibilities attached.

As a final note, one of the best ways to encourage your child to be more responsible is by taking notice of his efforts. Nothing boosts confidence better than acknowledgement. Tell him how healthy the pet looks and attribute it to how he always feeds it on time. Take notice of how clean the pet’s area is. Just always be ready with a good thing to say if there’s something to be acknowledged. It will make him proud, making him want to be more responsible to show that he indeed deserves to have a pet.

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