8 Tips for Engaging Children with the Family Pet
It’s safe to say that at some point every child will beg and plead to have a pet. Having a family pet has many advantages for children. It can teach them empathy, responsibility, even reduce their susceptibility to allergies. Most importantly, loving a family pet contributes to a happy, well-adjusted childhood. Having a family pet is an important decision and should be done with care. The wrong decisions can result in having to return or rehome an innocent animal. Avoid that sad outcome by following these eight tips for engaging children with the family pet.
1. Start Small
It’s a good idea to start out small with young children and children who have never had a pet. Hamsters and gerbils make great first pets. They require minimal care and don’t take up a lot of space yet they can be cute, cuddly, and engaging. However, they can be fragile, so teach children how to handle them carefully. Fish and reptiles are low-maintenance and fun to watch. Children can take an active role in feeding small pets and cleaning cages, fish bowls, and fish tanks.
2. Pick the Right Pet
It’s important to match pets with your lifestyle. Consider how much space and time you have before picking out a pet. Ask yourself if you’ll be able to provide the right environment for a pet and if you’ll be able to afford the proper veterinary care. If you have a very busy lifestyle and/or take lots of extended trips, it’s best to pick a low-maintenance pet. Also, consider an animal’s typical lifespan. Horses and donkeys can live up to 40 years. Large exotic birds can have about the same lifespan as humans. Having these pets mean a lifetime commitment.
3. Lay the Groundwork
Before heading to the pet store or humane society, decide on what pet to pick. Make sure children know you won’t change your mind once they are faced with other choices. Do research along with your child. Look for books and websites to learn about the species and how to care for the pet. Make sure children understand their role in caring for a pet and what can happen when they abandon their responsibilities.
4. Involve Kids in a Pet’s Exercise
Pets like dogs and cats need exercise, stimulation, and human interaction. Explain this to children in terms they can understand. Ask them to think about what it would be like if they had to sit alone in their rooms all day. Older children may let the novelty of a new pet wear off. Establish a schedule that includes time during the day for children to play with pets. They can take dogs for short walks or play with cats for short periods. Let them help pick out pet toys.
5. Let Feeding and Grooming Pets Teach Responsibility
Taking care of pets should become a part of a child’s daily chores. Give them the responsibility of feeding pets. Make a visual for them like a schedule posted on the kitchen bulletin board or the refrigerator. Tasks, like bathing and brushing pets and cleaning out fish tanks and bird cages, can be a part of weekly chores. Be careful not to delegate chores that are inappropriate for a child’s age. Young children can brush and play with puppies, but they shouldn’t be expected to clean pet messes. Making sure water bowls are filled is a good chore for young children.
6. Involve Kids in Training Pets
Make sure children understand the importance of a well-behaved pet. Watch videos and tutorials on training pets to behave appropriately. Involve them in picking out obedience training classes, and if possible, let them attend training classes along with you. Teaching them cute tricks can be an exciting and rewarding experience.
7. Teach Kids to Interact With Pets Safely
Children should be taught respect for pets. Let them know that sometimes pets need their own space. Help them learn the signs that pets need to be left alone. They should understand that things like pulling tails and ears can provoke pets to bite or scratch. Explain that they shouldn’t bother pets while they are eating or resting. If you choose to have a dog or cat with a toddler, it’s up to you to watch, supervise, and correct them around pets.
8. Have a Reward System
After making sure your child knows what is expected in taking care of their pet on a daily and weekly basis, and assigning age-appropriate chores, set up a reward system. like a star chart or token system they can trade for extra privileges or tangible rewards. Lavish them with praise. When they short, regroup and explain the consequences of not caring for pets rather than punishing them.