With families spending more time at home together in 2020, many people have added a pet to their household. Teaching children pet care can begin as young as two! If you’ve added, or are thinking of adding a pet to your family, don’t under estimate what your kids can do! Kids can learn and grow so much in responsibility and empathy through pet care. We present to you the the pawsitives of teaching children pet care.
Even young children can learn how to treat pets gently and provide basic care.
Five year old Lillyana is in charge of her family’s ‘weenies’, Cecilia and Chiquita. She walks them and feeds them, and plays fetch in the yard. With her mom, Maria, she gives them baths, and makes sure their nails are trimmed and ears are cleaned. During the pandemic, her family adopted a guinea pig they named Stitch. Stitch went everywhere with Lilly, for walks in a wagon, and rides in her bike basket. This fall, she gave Stitch to her school’s science teacher, so many more students can enjoy Stitch in the classroom. Lilly says the best part about her pets is “They make me feel happy” Maria says having pets teaches Lilly caring –“ she knows it is up to her and us to feed them and take care of them because they cannot do it themselves. She hugs and kisses them like true members of the family.”
In general, kids as young as 2 can help put away pet toys, play with a pet, or help feed them. Preschoolers can help change bedding or clean out cages. Elementary-age children can feed, bathe or clean up after pets with help from you. They can also walk pets on a leash, and play with them in the yard. Teenagers can handle almost all aspects of pet care, including training and walking pets. Young children shouldn’t be expected to take on all the responsibility for a pet, but allow them to do what they can with reminders from you. And, of course, enforce handwashing after any interaction with pets.
Caryiana, 15, has taken care of her Yorkshire terrier, Annie, for the last 3 years. “I walk her, I feed her, I bathe her” says Cariyana. “The best thing about her is she helps me with my problems – she makes me feel good.”
Cariyana, who came into her family by adoption, is all-in for pet adoption from shelters – that’s where her family got Annie. ‘Give them a chance” she says. Cariyana says Annie has really enjoyed having her family at home with her more since the pandemic, and she wonders how Annie will feel when life returns to normal and Cariyana is gone to school during the day. This loving, caring relationship is a great benefit of pet ownership. Sometimes kids will tell you they confide in their pets things they can’t say out loud to friends or family. Part of that ‘they make you feel good” sentiment.
Mom Karen says “Teaching children pet care responsibilities prepare children for the responsibilities of adulthood. An example is learning to deal with unexpected situations life deals you – like how to handle the dog running out of the yard.“ Karen also says pet care teaches kindness and patience. “Animals express their love for humans and kids feel that.”
Teach your child to hold small pets, like rabbits and guinea pigs securely, with one hand underneath the pet’s back legs. Teach them the signs cats and dogs show with their body language – growling and ears back mean your dog is irritated. Cats tend to hiss and hunch when they want to be left alone. Teaching children pet care might seem daunting, but worth it in the end. Owning a pet is a big responsibility, but most kids enjoy learning about their pets. Read books together about your pet and take your child with you to vet appointments.
The decision to add a pet to the family is a weighty one – but no matter the pet you choose, kids will grow in character, responsibility and love when helping to care for the family pet. Caring for a pet who can’t take care of themselves leads a child down the path of empathy for life.