Teaching Kids Responsibility Through Caring for a Pet
Published on December 27, 2018 by A. Rothstein
Almost 70% of households care for a pet, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. More than half of those pet owners consider their pet to be a family member. Pets range from dogs and cats to birds, fish, rodents and reptiles.
It has also been found that pet ownership can be impactful for kids. Almost all kids take part in pet ownership at one point in their childhood. When faced with adversity in life, be it a divorce, loss, or illness, kids turn to their pets for comfort, surprisingly more than they seek out siblings or peers.
There are many benefits to kids owning and caring for a companion animal. But most powerful of all is how caring for an animal can teach a child what it means to have responsibility and to care for others.
What Kids Want to Be When They Grow Up
Of all professions available to kids, the top two aspirations are to become are doctors and veterinarians. Here, caring for a pet animal during youth and adolescence can help interest them in a future career choice. Likewise, it can steer a young person in another direction while course-correction is still easy and swift.
Pet Care Teaches Kids Responsibility
Experts emphasize how vital it is not to bring an animal into the home for the sole purpose of teaching kids about responsibility. Everyone in the family needs to care of that animal, especially if the child is quite young. Day-to-day care care should be age-appropriate to ensure the animal’s well-being takes priority. As kids grow older, responsibilities can be adjusted.
If everyone in the family is on board with bringing a companion animal into the home and participating in its daily care, be it a dog, cat, bird, pocket mammal or other species, then these are the many lessons in responsibility the youngest family members will have the opportunity to learn.
Keep a Routine
Pets love mealtime. A family dog or cat is likely to get quite excited when mealtime comes, and it can feel good to be a part of meeting that anticipation with tasty food. Since pets often seem to have their own internal clock about feeding, this can reinforce how vital it is to stick to a daily schedule.
Hygiene and Grooming Habits
Likewise, pets need to have their hair (fur) brushed. They need to have their teeth brushed, and their nails clipped. Having a pet may help kids learn to take care of themselves, as well as others. The kids can learn responsibility by doing the task for their animal and then for themselves. Also, doing things together feels less like a chore and is more fun.
Kids may think training should be fast and easy. But it takes time to build bonds, build trust, discover each other’s motivations, fears and aspirations. This can be true when caring for a very young animal. Young animals, like young people, have to start from square one. They must learn to potty in the right place, sleep through the night, stay off the furniture and other important basic life lessons.
Diet, Exercise and Healthy Habits
Over 32% of kids and adolescents are overweight or obese. In a world populated by fast food, video games and smartphones, a pet offers a valuable alternative to these unhealthy habits.
Pets need exercise to keep from becoming bored and destructive. Most pets also need daily interactive play time for enrichment and quality of life. By witnessing how a healthy diet and regular exercise keeps a companion animal healthy, a child can develop more of an appreciation for the importance of these in their own life.
No child likes to go to the pediatrician, no animal likes to go to the veterinarian. But sometimes people and pets need to get medical care, dental care, immunizations, surgery and other types of care. Learning how to do the right thing, even when it is the hard thing can be a real teaching moment to help prepare kids for having their own families one day.
Learn to Budget
One powerful lesson family pets can contribute responsibility to a child is on the topic of personal budgeting. From purchasing a new companion animal and the supplies it requires, to affording veterinary care and other expenses, animals can cost money.
For kids who are earning an allowance, adding an animal to the family can be a great lesson in budgeting.
Sacrifice and Care for Others
Pet care requires time and financial commitments. It is true that some species need more care than others, but all pets will require some care to stay happy and healthy in captivity. This may generate scheduling conflicts when the dog needs a walk at the same time a favorite television program comes on or a friend calls with an invitation to play. Similarly, for a child who likes to sleep in, having to get up early to feed the cat or walk the dog in the pouring rain can highlight how parents and others may be making similar sacrifices to care for the pet.
Honesty and Empathy
It can be hard to ask for help, admit mistakes or feel fear, anger, sadness or other strong emotions. Pets can provide a safe and unconditionally loving space for kids to speak out and reach out for support and love.
Witnessing a companion animal displaying anger, fear or grief can communicate vital lessons about the power of focusing on similarities over differences. This is true whether between two people or between two species. This teaches empathy and courage, fostering connection on a fundamental level.
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