Pets serve many purposes in the lives of their owners, including companionship, protection, and entertainment.
Hollywood has portrayed pets as heroes (Lassie, for example), as suppliers of fur (101 Dalmatians), and as a litmus test for relationships (28 Days and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days). On a more practical note, for owners with children, pets can help teach responsibility.
It is not uncommon to hear your children say, “Why do I have to do everything?” Parents slump in frustration, take a deep breath, and begin to list the things they have done to ensure the child’s health and safety over the years. Perhaps a little object lesson would help.
What all is necessary to keep a pet healthy and safe? Admittedly, kids will still roll their eyes when asked to take out the trash, but having a pet can help them understand why it needs to be done.
The most basic responsibility lesson pets provide is that all living things need food and water to stay alive. In order for the pet to be nourished, entrust your child with the responsibility of filling the food dish and letting you know when more food is required. Both tasks can remind children that food does not magically appear on the table at dinner time.
Secondly, pets make a mess. Whether it’s a litter box, newspaper, hay, a rabbit hutch, or the backyard, pets leave plenty of messes for your child to clean. If messes remain for too long, the offensive odor should be a motivator to remove the mess.
Additionally, pets may have toys they leave in the floor or in the yard. Before the floor can be swept or the yard mowed, those toys will need to be put away. On the flip side of that, if a child leaves a toy within reach of your pet, they may learn what happens to toys that aren’t picked up; they get chewed up.
Safety is also a concern for pets and teaches children why boundaries are necessary. A dog that runs out the front door and into the street is in danger of being hit by a car. The child learns that keeping the dog on a leash or in a fenced area is not punishment so much as it is protection. Other pets may need protection from wildlife in the area or the swimming pool in the backyard.
Finally, children need to learn that pets require attention. With the exception of some scaly friends, pets like to be played with and petted. Just like kids, who do not enjoy being left in their bedroom with only restroom and meal breaks, pets enjoy a variety of activities.
As your child learns to care for the family pet, hopefully they will get to know each other. Your child may be able to tell you where the pet most enjoys being petted or which type of food is its favorite. Taking care of pets will teach children responsibility while building a new friendship.
About the author: Tiffany Marshall is the aunt of a chocolate Labrador named Baylor, a guinea pig named Jubilee, a Maltese named Hardy, a lizard named Lightning, and a rabbit named Smokey, who loves his rabbit hutch. Her nine year old niece and six year old nephew take the care of these animals very seriously.
Credits: Photo courtesy of Devin Kho.