Teaching children the responsibility of caring for pets – Part 2

Pet ownership will not necessarily “teach” a child responsibility, but it’s a great way to apply lessons which have already begun.

Having a child assume full care of a living creature can have dire penalties – the most dramatic is the death of the pet. This is no reason to avoid pet ownership, because children also need to realize that all living creatures do pass on at some point. The issue arises, however, as to whether the child is capable of all aspects of pet care.

One factor which can determine a child’s readiness to have a pet is his personality: does the child show long-term interest in his current toys and activities? Or does he regularly flit from one type of play to another, one pursuit to another, without a thought? In other words, after he is given a toy or other “must have”, does he continue to show interest or is it a quickly-passing phase? Will he play constantly with a new puppy for a few days, then ignore the animal forever after?

If a child has been taught responsibility and accountability, and exhibits these things on a consistent basis, the child is ready for pet ownership. A parent would be wise to oversee the daily care of a pet and be prepared to step in when necessary, in case of a lapse. The adult parent is ultimately responsible for pet care.

Playtime is a necessary component of pet ownership. A child should be willing and able to spend time with a pet on a regular basis, without being nagged or bribed to do so. He should enjoy this time, and consider the pet a friend, or at least a living creature that needs interaction.

Brushing or grooming is important for pets but is something that would not have life-or-death consequences; this is an excellent place to begin. The child should be taught the proper way to groom his pet, and be expected to do so on a regular basis. He will, however, probably be unable to satisfactorily do this without teaching, reminding, and guidance. It may even require Mom or Dad showing the child for many days – and this is where either parent may find themselves undertaking this chore fairly often.

A child could then progress to making sure the pet has fresh water every day; the child should be taught to make a habit of filling the dish or bottle and checking it twice a day. Expect drips, dribbles, and spill, but resist the temptation to take over.

The next step, of course, is filling the food dish; this can be incorporated into daily care as soon as the child exhibits consistency with keeping the pet supplied with water. Expect more drips, dribbles, and spills.

Potty training and obedience training are activities best suited for adults. Children make messes, pets make messes, and the combination can prove too messy for even the most patient parent. If, however, the child is older and has show responsibility thus far, a very tolerant adult may request assistance.

Again, the parent must be prepared to step in and take over the daily duties associated with pet care. Children forget, they are naturally self-centered, and most do not realize the seriousness of pet care and ownership until they have reached adolescence. Even then, a pet can be forgotten or neglected.

Do not use a pet to “teach” a child responsibility. Teach the child, and perhaps consider pet ownership as a further element of that responsibility.

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