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How to get your kids to help take care of the family pet

Written by Arturo Knight


Posted on September 18 2020

Kids who love animals often plead with their parents for a pet. They may negotiate to do chores for a year or promise to take care of their pets every step of the way if you get one.

Those parents who oblige may be somewhat surprised at how quickly the newness of a pet wears off. No parents should ever expect their child to learn responsibility by taking care of a pet.

Instead, help them discover the joys of having a pet and the lessons you want to teach them about caring for a pet will naturally follow. To begin, encourage children to learn about the pet they want and what kind of care that pet will require.

When my son was 8 and wanted a dog, I told him he had to read about dog care first. He came home from school the next day with a few library books on dog care and by the end of week, our dinner conversation became all about dogs and their needs.

I was thrilled, but knew how quickly a child’s interest can wane. The next step was to volunteer at the animal shelter where we could walk dogs, clean kennels and talk about their care in real time. (This may be difficult to do during the pandemic, but you could offer to walk a neighbor’s dog routinely instead.)

I wanted my son to see that caring for a dog took time every day and some of the associated chores aren’t always pleasant. To that end, we visited the shelter five days a week for the next six months. I was, in essence, trying to wear him out on the responsibilities of caring for a dog to make sure he was up for the real-life task.

Turns out he was ready for a dog. After six months, he still loved walking dogs every day and taking care of their needs. By giving him time to experience many different kinds of dogs, he knew he wanted a big dog and an older dog because he noticed how often they got overlooked by families who wanted puppies and small dogs instead.

And while I never ever expected him to fully care for the dog we adopted — no parent should — in the end, my son found great joy in caring for this dog and the four other dogs and two cats that eventually became a part of our family. He never saw the feeding, brushing, playing with or cleaning up after as chores, but something joyful to do for your best friend.

So, before you honor your child’s wishes for a pet, help them first to understand what pets need to be happy and healthy in their homes. The more they understand beforehand, the more likely they will find joy in caring for them afterward.