Although pets are great for children, those under 12 years old aren't usually responsible enough for independent pet care. Nevertheless, having a pet is an opportunity to teach your kids responsibility, if you're willing to guide them until they're old enough to take over [source: Pantley].
Here are some tips to help your kids will become responsible pet owners:
- Assign tasks Assign each child one or two chores, such as feeding the pet and taking it for a walk. Be specific and walk them through the steps for each task.
- Make a schedule Tell your kids when to do each task. For example, feed the pet before breakfast and dinner. Follow through by serving meals only after they've fed the pet.
- Use reminders Hang up a chart that illustrates the main steps of each task. Use diagrams for younger children and a one- or two-word reminder for older kids.
- Give praise Acknowledge your kids' efforts when they do their tasks. Praise them for what they did right. Gently point out a missed or incorrect step when necessary.
- Use empathy for motivation For example, if a child didn't feed the cat, say something like "Oh, poor kitty is so hungry, and can't make her own breakfast." This enables the child see things from the pet's perspective.
- Motivate with guilt If a child repeatedly forgets or neglects his tasks, deliver a short, gentle reprimand expressing your feelings. You want your child to feel a bit guilty and thus be motivated to take the responsibility more seriously.
- Be prepared to take over While pets provide an opportunity to teach responsibility, a child may absolutely refuse to take care of the pet. If that happens, you'll have to decide whether to take on the job yourself or find the pet a new home [source Faull].
Keep in mind that as the responsible adult, you're managing the process, and must remind your kids of their tasks. If you're patient and persevering, they'll eventually become good pet owners [source Faull].