Are your kids cutting and pasting pictures of cats or dogs, researching pet care and swearing they'll do whatever it takes to care for a new pet?
Kids make a lot of promises when they're dying to get a new family pet, but it's important to help them understand just how much responsibility the pet's going to require. They can help out a little, but what can you realistically expect them to do?
"If you're a parent … you're the caregiver," says CJ Bentley, behaviorist at the Michigan Humane Society. "Children cannot administer medicine, take the animal to the veterinarian or groomer, or shop for food."
While kids may be wholly committed to helping out, there's a lot they simply can't do. Anything that requires monetary resources, like paying for kenneling, food, and regular veterinarian visits are in your hands, as is training and walking a larger dog. If you don't have time for those commitments, you may want to wait awhile to get a pet, no matter how much your child is begging to go to the local shelter.
Aside from those tasks, kids can still help out - and teaching them to take care of your pet is a great way to teach them about responsibility. Here are a few areas where your child can give you a helping hand:
- Feeding: Older children can quickly learn how much food your pet needs and how to offer it to them. Monitor their feeding for a couple weeks to make sure they're considering the amount and placing of each meal.
- Cleaning Kennels: With a little guidance, kids can learn how to clean your pet's kennel.
- Scoop the backyard: Kids can learn how to clean up waste, but make sure you're always around to help them out. Remember to wash your hands after any pet-related cleaning.
- Playtime: Petting, exercising and play, all of those are important to keeping your pet stimulated and healthy. Just make sure kids are playing respectfully - trapping a cat under a laundry basket is only playtime for one party.
- Help with training: Many kids' games involve repetition, so they can be excellent at giving your pet persistent training that helps him learn by repeating tricks over and over. This also teaches the pet to listen to your child, which will help ensure they have a healthy, fun relationship.
What can you do together?
Think twice about having your child walk your pet. The pet could start chasing an animal and pull down your child, or your child could let go of the leash and the pet could run away. Instead, think of walks as something fun the family can do together.
"It's good bonding time," CJ says. " My son and I have some of our best talks during dog walk time."
All in all, having a pet is a lot of responsibility, most of which will fall on you. That said, it's a great way to teach kids about the responsibility and hard work that parents commit to every day.