By 2 years old, we start expecting our children to help with the pets.
Yep. You absolutely read that correctly.
But some of the important conversations that kids need to be a part of in caring for animals typically are not discussed until it becomes a lecture about not neglecting their responsibilities.
In reality, the topic of inappropriate foods is an element of keeping our own dog healthy, which is why we start teaching our young toddlers to not feed food to Samson even before they can actually say Samson. (Not to mention the fact that some dogs can become agressive around kids and food).
So instead of waiting, we start talking about what it takes to keep the dog alove and healthy at a very early age. Even at 18 months, both of my girls have gotten food and water for the family dogs. And when a chore or task is done that they’re not in charge of, they’re still involved in the process (like the dog boaths) because it helps them understand the need and the process.
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Important discussions to have with your kids about caring for pets
Whether you have pets and your child is getting old enough to understand they have to be cared for or they’re literally begging to get a new puppy, some basic parameters have to be taught to our kids to understand that our pets are living and must be cared for just like us.
1. Explain the Dangers of Human Food
Many pets can have fruits, vegetables, and other human food. However, even some healthy foods can be deadly. Make sure you sit down with your child and help them understand that it’s never ok to give your pet the food off their plate. Read about what foods could cause harm to your particular pet(s).
For instance, dogs should never eat grapes or raw onions.
It’s important that your kids know that certain foods can make their pet very sick. Explain that the goldfish isn’t interested in their ice cream and the puppy would get very, very sick if they shared their candy bars with him.
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2. Show Kids How to Groom Pets
You want to make sure your kids know how to groom their new pet. It might be brushing the new puppy twice a day or giving him a bath once a month. Even fish need “grooming” in terms of giving them clean water to live in so help them set a schedule they can maintain and show their responsibility in completing scheduled tasks.
Explain that happy pets are ones that are clean and healthy because both they and their living space are well-maintained.
Read more about responsibility with this idea using school supplies.
3. Teach Kids to Properly Measure Food
It’s so important to measure pet food properly. Some pets will eat themselves to death. Goldfish are a great example of this.
Explain to your children what the right amount is and that feeding the pet more than that is very dangerous to the pet’s health. They also have to learn that animals, like humans, have scheduled times to eat. In fact, feeding can be a part of your child’s chores on top of ensuring that food is safely secured and stored.
Read more about great chore ideas for toddlers and preschoolers.
4. Make Sure Kids Know How to Clean Up After Pets
Whether it’s cleaning the litter box, picking up waste from the yard, or changing the bedding in a hamster cage, your kids need to know how to clean up after their pet.
While it’s definitely no fun, it’s part of owning and caring for a pet. Like it says in the book Everyone Poops, it’s important they know that because every living thing eats, every living thing poops. And we’re responsible as the caregivers to clean up messes too.
5. Talk About the Importance of Rest
Pets need a lot more rest than humans. You need to explain that in order for their new pet to be healthy, he needs rest. This is especially true for puppies and kittens. Some pets, such as hamsters, sleep during the day and need that rest.
Caring for pets is something your children should know how to do from the beginning. If you want to practice, consider watching a friend’s pet for a few days. This gives kids the chance to get a feel for caring for a pet.
6. Pets need special attention
This can manifest in many ways and all are important to talk about depending on which animal your child wants or has.
Like did you know that guinea pigs are social creatures and it’s actually pretty unfair to them to not get a pair to let them live with a friend?
More traditionally though, dogs need exercise, cats needs something to claw, and fish like betas actually need to live alone!
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!