Teaching children the responsibility of caring for pets – Part 12

It’s something every parent says when the pleading face looks up at them. “Well, okay, but you have to take care of it.” What child doesn’t immediately agree?

As the adults, though, we have to temper our demand with the knowledge that our children are still children. They will need supervision and reminding. Both to make sure they are actually learning something, and that the pet will not be neglected.

We need to consider the needs of the pet, and the ability of the child, to properly fill in as needed. Simple pets such as goldfish and hamsters often appeal because they are confined in their living quarters, are relatively inexpensive, and are not noisy and intrusive. But this means such a pet needs more supervision, not less. It’s easy for a child, especially a young one, to forget their duties, and to do so for only a couple of days can mean a pet funeral. This was not the learning experience we had in mind.

It’s not enough to ask if the child took care of Harry Potter. They can lose track and be sincere in a false statement. We have to make sure Harry Potter is taken care of, and a great way to do this is to share in the activity each day. This can be a bonding moment with the child, too, as they tell us about their pet adventure.

Puppies and kittens require more care. At least they have the advantage of letting us know when they need food or a bathroom break. These are also more intelligent pets, with longer lifespans, and greater opportunities to be a friend to our child. The unquestioning love of a dog or cat give the child a rewarding animal experience for many years, something to share with a human friend, and also teaches the important skill of empathy. A child who cares about their pet will care about others. That can be the greatest gift of all.

So we must recognize that pets will be our responsibility, too. Even if we have to remind them every day at first, that is how children learn. They can contribute according to their ability, take pride when they don’t need reminding any more, and feel firsthand how the pet depends on them.

This sense of responsibility and compassion, along with the companionship, will pay dividends in the future.

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