Being responsible is a trait that kids must learn so that they will grow up as reliable and productive adults. One best way to teach it is by experience. Giving them household chores can go a long way, but to develop the dedication in caring for another, you can give them pets. Adding a pet to your family and teaching them how to take care of it can effectively teach your child responsibility.
Adopting a pet is a good idea, but as a parent, you should get one because you also want to. The responsibility lesson must only be a bonus, not your main reason. When you get a pet, like a dog or a cat, your child may not always do their responsibility consistently, so you have to be prepared and willing to do it yourself. The ultimate responsibility for the pet is still yours, but with it, you have a good way to help your child learn how to be responsible for another living being as long as it is done the right way.
Kinds of Pets to Adopt
There are many animals you can try to adapt to your home so your child can learn how to be responsible.
Low maintenance pets
- Fish – the perfect starter pet. Goldfish can survive in a fishbowl without a filter.
- Insects – Hermit crabs and ant farms are fun and educational.
- Reptiles – Turtles, lizards, toads, and geckos are non-allergenic, so it’s a perfect pet choice for people who are allergic to dander and pet hair. They are also fun and educational.
- Rodents – Hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, and gerbils are all fun to adapt, but they can be high on allergens.
- Small birds – Canaries, parakeets, and finches are some of the birds that are easy to take care of. Just note that taking care of birds can be messy.
Medium maintenance pets
- Cats – Cats are furry, adorable companions that are great to adapt if you want an independent pet. It’s also a good choice if you live in a limited space and a dog is not a conducive option.
- Dogs – Dogs are man’s best friend, and they are great with kids. However, getting a dog requires a bit more responsibility. Dog breeds that are best for kids include Retrievers, Poodles, Bulldogs, Collies, Beagles, Shih Tzu, and Terriers.
High maintenance pets
- Larger birds
- Exotic animals like monkeys, chimpanzees, llamas, pigs, etc.
Lessons Children Can Learn from Taking Care of a Pet
Having a pet and taking care of it can offer your child substantial life lessons he/she can learn through experience. Here are some of the lessons you can teach your child while making him/her responsible for a pet:
Responsibility and consistency
Pets need around-the-clock care at one level or another. It requires daily feeding, grooming, potty time and cleanup, and affection. Through having a pet, a child can learn how to care for another living being even if it’s inconvenient or conflicting with something else he wants to do. It helps them learn that prioritizing needs over wants is an important part of the responsibility.
Let’s take feeding, for example. Feeding a pet is something a child can easily understand because they themselves eat, and they know what being hungry feels like. They will understand that the pet needs to eat too, and they need to feed regularly. Giving them that responsibility will teach them to be consistent. Reinforce the behavior by praising their positive involvement.
Caring for a pet requires love, understanding, compassion, and empathy. Children may think of the pet as a plaything, and they may get tired of it, the same way they do with a toy. But learning the importance of caring for another living being teaches your child to treat the animal as something more important and valuable than a toy. It reinforces their commitment to the life of a pet. Making them spend time with the pet helps them understand that being responsible includes taking time to pay attention and give love to their pets.
When the pet needs medical attention, the compassion they have built can arouse them to ask for help when they notice that their birdie, kitty, or doggy is ill or injured. Most kids know how horrible it feels to be sick or to be injured.
Bereavement and understanding the world
When a pet passes away, it often becomes your child’s first encounter with death. Your child may be devastated, but discussing these moments with them can help them process the grief. It can also teach them emotional skills that will be important when they age. It will help them understand that in this world, our loved ones won’t be with us forever.
Trust and companionship
Pets, especially dogs, can fulfill some psychological needs of children. Once they offer love to their pets, the pet brings back unconditional support. They make wonderful trusted companions they can rely on, and it can be a first step to helping your child develop trust in their relationship with other people as well. They learn how to build emotional connections, which makes them better friends and companions. Studies that involved school-age children regarding pet ownership has shown that kids with pets tend to be more altruistic and empathetic than the kids without a pet.
Walking the dog, playing tug of war and playing fetch are fun activities you can do with a pet dog. With parental supervision, a daily walk with the dog can be a rewarding time together with the additional benefit of getting exercise, fresh air, and sunlight. Children in dog-owning families spend more time being physically active than children in families with no dogs.
Pets can strike questions from other people, making your child open for a social “ice breaker.” For instance, taking your dog out for a walk as a family and letting your child hold the leash can improve your child’s social skills, as people may approach the dog. Pets can also help children with autism to develop their social skills.
How to Encourage your Child to Take Care of Pet
Your child may be overly eager at the start, pestering you with requests like “Dad, I want a dog!” or “Dad, please let’s get a parrot.” Once your child expresses the desire for a pet (make sure it’s a consistent request, not just a passing mention), talk to him/her about the responsibility of owning a pet. Make sure he/she understands that it requires daily care – which means work – and not just fun and playtime. Also, consider if you are prepared to take over caring for it if your child does not.
Once you give in after seeing that your kid is ready, they may not be as enthusiastic as before. You need to encourage them to continue what they started because that’s a big lesson on responsibility. Involve your child in each step of taking care of the pet by following these tips:
Create age-appropriate tasks
Older kids and teens can be reliable when it comes to taking care of pets, but don’t disregard your toddler and youngsters – even they can help out. You only have to make age-appropriate tasks, and if you have a preschooler, you can make a chore chart and put on some stars on it once your little one gets it done to encourage him/her.
Toddlers up to age five can help put away pet toys, help with grooming the pet, and play with the pet. You can also have them alert you when the water bowl needs to be refilled, and help you dry the pet’s dish after washing it. Don’t expect too much from young kids, as a lot of tasks may pose a danger to the child.
Older kids can help feed the dog by putting food and water in the pet’s dishes with your supervision. They can exercise the pet, especially if it’s a dog, and play with it constantly. A child can even train the dog by taking a dog training class for kids. The kid can also walk the dog with you. Teach them how to hook the leash and make sure that they have enough poop bags. Older kids can also help with grooming and bathing the pet.
Teens can be responsible in all aspects of pet care unless it’s a large and unruly animal. You still also need to supervise them and take over at times when they become busy with school work.
Praise and reward your child for a job well done
Children need encouragement from their parents, and you can do it by praising them and rewarding them. First, you should be clear with your child about the responsibilities of owning the specific type of pet you picked out. Then, discuss what tasks are expected of them. Praise your child if they do a pet chore right at first to encourage proper behavior. Praise them also if they do it without having to ask. Try to reward them with a fun activity once they have done well. If you notice that they start to lapse on their responsibility, remind them gently. If they still won’t do it, have a talk with your child and see what can be done.
Educate them about the pet
Kids don’t just need to know what tasks to do and how to do it, but also discuss why. Letting them know helps your child understand better the responsibilities they are assigned with. Explain that the pet is a living and breathing creature just like them and that it has physical and emotional needs. You can help your child identify with the pet so that they will have a deeper understanding of why they need to get those needs met. Make the think like the pet. If you adopted a dog, help your child think like a dog so they can better understand the behaviors of the pet.
You can make your child choose which caregiving tasks they want to be responsible for. Making them pick the task will make them own it, encouraging themselves to follow through.
Be a good role model
Even the most responsible kid can make mistakes, so it’s your job as a parent to make sure the pet receives proper care. Being an example to your child is important, so they would be encouraged to provide proper care as well. This is why you need to be willing also to take care of the pet on your own.
Giving orders and reminders over and over can help, but actually spending time with the pet and taking care of it yourself will do a lot more. It will help your child see and understand that being responsible means taking time each day to pay attention to the pet. Children are imitators, so it is important if they see you do it yourself. Also, it helps a lot if you are a caring parent to your child yourself. Children will know they are loved, and your child can learn that the pet needs the same thing. They can be inspired to be the “parent” to the pet you have.