Are you thinking of adding a furry family member? Family pets can be wonderful. Pet ownership has been shown to lower stress and raise self-esteem, and as an added bonus, pets can teach the whole family about unconditional love.
Involving children in pet care is a great way to teach them about the responsibility of being an animal’s guardian. If your kids are old enough to play with your dog or cat, they are old enough to help take care of them.
A great place to start teaching kids to care for family pets is at feeding time. Once your child has an understanding of portion size (use a measuring cup!), he or she should be able to fill dishes with dry food and water, or sprinkle fish food in the tank. Letting kids feed the animals makes them feel like they are contributing in a valuable way. It also lets pets know that your child is one of their caretakers.
While most children aren’t quite capable of bathing dogs, almost any child can brush a willing dog or cat. In addition to getting kids involved in pet grooming, brushing helps prevent shedding.
Almost every domestic pet needs exercise. Incorporating play into your child’s pet care routine is fun and beneficial for the pet as well as the child. Cat toys with long handles are fun, as are Frisbees or tennis balls for dogs. With play, parental supervision is a must. Use play time as an opportunity to teach kids rules for safely approaching animals.
If your child is old enough, they can help clean up after the family pets. Teaching kids to scoop the litter box or clean the hamster cage is something they won’t necessarily want to do, but if they plan on having pets of their own someday it is a skill they will need to master. (And remember to tell them to wash their hands!)
There’s almost always a way to involve your kids in caring for the family pet, at any age and with any animal. Becoming a caretaker can teach kids responsibility, boost their self-esteem, and may have a big impact on your child’s connection to our friends in the animal kingdom—for life.