Teaching Your Kids How To Care for Pets
Chances are if you have a kid, you also have a pet. And if you don’t have a pet, you probably have a kid begging you for one. Or at least that’s how it was at our house after our elderly cat Dickens passed away at the age of 20 last winter. My husband and I weren’t yet ready to adopt a new kitten, but our two boys definitely were and they repeatedly told us that if we got one, they’d take care of her themselves. Yep, the old “I’ll feed him every day, Mom!” promise that we’ve all heard at least a million times.
But because 8 and 10-year-old boys who want a kitten are pretty hard to resist, we agreed. And, after going through a somewhat arduous adoption process, I’m pleased to say that our family now includes the wonder cats Lola and Virgil. It’s been wonderful to watch the boys fall in love with these furfaces and make them part of our family.
That said, the past few months have definitely taught me a lot about kids, pets and responsibility. And how it actually is possible to make all of those elements work together so your family doesn’t go completely crazy. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
(Note: This is skewed toward cats and shelter adoption because that’s my experience, but hopefully these tips will work regarding other types of pets and adoptions, too.)
1. If Possible, Include Your Kids in the Adoption Process
It may seem easier to just bring home a pet you’ve picked out yourself, but I believe that a child feels more responsible for an animal when they’re included early on in the process. The boys and I scoured adoption websites, went to shelters and even drove to the homes of people who foster pets until we found the kittens we knew were right for us. The boys then saw how I had to fill out pages of paperwork and listen to advice from adoption counselors, which showed them that this wasn’t something to be taken lightly.
2. Empower Them With Information
Much like new mothers rely on baby care books, it’s helpful to have kids read all about their new type of pet. There are quite a few good books available, but I liked this one about cats and my friend Maria loves this one about dogs. My younger son Jack actually checked a few more animal care books out of his school library and now proudly tells us all the random facts he knows about cats. (Which hopefully means a future as a veterinarian and not as a hoarder.)
3. For the Pet’s Sake, Curtail The Enthusiasm
Once you bring your new friend home, it’s understandable that the kids will want to smother him with love. However, keep in mind that the animal has just gone through a big change and probably needs a little quiet time to adjust. (Especially if it’s still a kitten or puppy who need more sleep.) After we brought Lola home, we’d let the boys play with her for an hour or so, then we’d tell them to sit on their beds and read. Nine times out of ten, she’d crawl into their laps for a nap and they were beyond elated. Of course, it won’t be too long before the novelty wears off and you have to remind the kids to throw a ball for a puppy who’s dying to play with someone.
4. The Pet Sleeps in Switzerland
Or another neutral territory in your house so the kids don’t fight over who gets her in their room. But even if your children share a room, I recommend not letting the pet stay with them because it’s a huge distraction. Most pets are somewhat active at night and may disrupt the kids’ sleep with whimpering or running around. And the one thing I’ve learned as a parent is to never disrupt the kids’ sleep.
5. Take Them Along on Vet Visits
When possible, I had the boys accompany me to the vet’s office if it was for something routine. Their job was to hold the cat carrier and talk sweetly to the cats if they yowled. Then they’d watch as the doctor performed the exam and administered any vaccines that were needed. Again, this was something that I think really helped them feel like they were responsible for our pets and involved in their care and health. Plus if/when something serious does ever happen with our pets, they’ll maybe get some comfort in being familiar with the doctor and the office.
6. Assign Pet Duties, But Within Reason
Once kids are school-aged like mine, it’s reasonable to expect them to shoulder some pet care responsibility. However, keep in mind that, although they may want to handle something like the litter box or dog walking, they might not be ready just yet. Or, more practically, not home or awake when something needs to be done. Our boys are great about refilling water bowls and dry food bowls, but unfortunately I’m the only one awake at 6:00 a.m. to answer the loud demands for tuna. So definitely assign duties, but just be sure they’re age appropriate enough to ensure success.
But most important, of course, is to enjoy all of the love and affection a little pet brings into your home. Even that pet is currently chomping on your big toe like mine is right now. Ouch.
Photo source: Photodisc/ Thinkstock