Teaching kids responsibility, empathy and kindness with pets
For most families, a pet is an important member of the family, whether it’s a dog, cat, mouse, or an iguana. A pet is a great start for children to learn empathy, kindness and responsibility, among other things.
Of course, you should never expect that you children will shoulder the responsibility for your pet. However, do allow them to care for a pet, along with your supervision, encouragement and support. Interest is the main factor to get your children into getting a pet, or in designating responsibilities. Some children really enjoy taking care of a pet and being with its company. A responsibility of taking care a pet also teaches children to be more communicative, sociable and physically active.
Children must read and understand the behavior and body language of their pets. This is for their safety as well as for their pets’. Since most families own dogs and cats, parents should teach their children proper behavior towards Rover and Mittens. When approaching a dog or a cat children should call its name softly before going near towards it. Parents should also teach their children to leave a dog or a cat alone whenever it’s eating, playing with their own toys, asleep or ill. It’s also important that children should also learn their pet’s body language. For instance, when a dog lowers its ears or tail, it says “back off.” A pet cat, on the on the other hand, conveys this message by growling, crouching or hissing.
Parents should also teach their children on how to properly deal with smaller animals such as hamsters, mice, guinea pigs and other domesticated rodents as well as rabbits, puppies and kittens. A secure and safe handling should consist of holding a pet with one hand beneath the animal’s hind legs. They should stop holding their small pets if they are frightened or upset — remember an upset animal may bite your children! Older kids would most likely be better at handling at these pets than pre-schoolers and toddlers, as they don’t yet understand how to respond to a pet’s body language. If you want, check out our related hub Choosing Small Pets.
As for “exotic” animals such as snakes, lizards, and ferrets, as well as birds, a more serious adult supervision is required. These kinds of pets require expert handling as these animals may not be suitable for very young kids.
Playing with pets fosters interaction, and it’s a great bonding between kids and their pets. Of course, parents should keep a close eye on their kids playing with a pet, whether it is large dog or a small hamster. Intervene if the play gets too rough or the animal appears bothered or upset.
Teaching Kids to Care for Pets
You should remind your kids that a pet is not a toy to play with. Owning a pet necessitates a big responsibility. Fortunately, kids want to learn more. Spend with your child in reading books about a particular pet. Teach children on what appropriate foods should be fed to pets, and how to feed them properly. Instruct your kids on how to clean their cages. Kids should not also forget to wash their hands after cleaning the cages. From doing these chores, kids will learn responsibility.
You may also encourage your child to go along to vet appointments. Not only that your pets are taken care of inside a vet clinic, it may also help their young masters feel better about their own appointments with their pediatrician. With these vet appointments, even younger kids can learn how these exams and vaccinations are important to your pet. When your children became more educated about pets, they will be more likely to treat them with more compassion.
Establish realistic expectations
Some people set unrealistic expectations for their children when taking care of pets. Some parents put too much responsibility on their children or assume that their kids have done certain responsibilities on a pet such as feeding it or giving it with water. In order to be successful in teaching your kids in caring for their pets, is to establish expectations that are realistic for your children, depending on their age, personality and level of development.
Every kid is different, and even kids at a younger age are already able to handle more responsibility. But you can expect your children to do these tasks depending on their age and developmental stages:
- Toddlers: can play with a pet, help place back pet toys, or help feeding a pet.
- Pre-schoolers: can be taught safety measures such as leaving the pet alone when it’s eating or asleep, or avoiding to touch a pet’s face
- Grade-schoolers: can feed and bathe a pet, walk a pet and clean its cage with adult supervision
- Teenagers: can have all the basic knowledge of taking care of a pet. They can also teach and train a pet several tricks.
Of course, parents should also instill safety when teaching kids on how to take care of pets. Both child and pet will be benefit from this.
You should have knowledge enough to tell your kids what and what not to feed to your pets. For instance, feeding chocolates to a pet dog and cat is a cardinal no-no as chocolates deem toxic to them. Resist your children from feeding pets with human food as it encourages begging and obesity in pets.
Also, supervise kids (especially younger ones) when they walk their pets on a leash at all times, particularly when outside the confines of your backyard. For instance, a nervous and agitated dog might run quickly away all of a sudden, thus hurting your child or making him or her run after it.
Whether your pet may carry a disease (particularly a bird or a turtle) or may not, you should still teach your children to wash and sanitize their hands after handling or playing with it.