When a friend of mine was a girl, she had a little puppy. One day, she was
playing with him and got frustrated as he kept trying to squirm away. She
held him tight to her chest and he squirmed even harder. Her grandfather
spied the scene and commanded her to put the pup down. He swept her up in
a big bear hug--when she tried to get away, he squeezed just a bit tighter,
just to make it clear he wasn’t going to put her down. “Hey!” She exclaimed,
“I wanna go... put me down!” He sat her down and said, “Now, how do you think
that puppy felt?”

Opportunities to teach children about pet care arise every single day. And
while my friend’s example was a bit extreme, it’s a moment that she says has
since affected the way she’s interacted with pets and humans alike. In less
than a minute’s time, her eyes were opened to a lifetime of empathy and the
importance of her role as a pet’s best friend.

What opportunities are you missing out on?

Whether it’s the millionth time you’re cleaning up after HIS dog’s mess or
the first time she skips out on feeding the cat because she went to the neighbor’s
house, it’s often faster to just sigh and take care of the aftermath than deal
with the issue straight away. You certainly don’t have to stop the world to teach your
kids a lesson regarding a non-serious issue. You’ve got a mess to clean up that
needs tending now or you were on your way to pay the bills and you’ll forget if
you don’t do it now. You may even be too emotional to do it right then
(just ask me about the breakdown I had last week when I saw a hairball on the carpet I’d
just cleaned. Really, Saturn? The first hairball all year, and it happens now?)

Find a time, perhaps before story time or after dinner that you can calmly
discuss the issue with your kids. For younger children, it always helps to start
with “Do you remember earlier, when...” Explain what happened and how it
affects your pet. When possible, relate it to a human interaction situation that
your child will be better able to understand, like “You don’t like it very
much when you’re hungry, right?” or “When your little brother pulls your hair,
it hurts a whole lot, doesn’t it?”

It’s important to know what behaviors your kids may exhibit that would be harmful
to a pet’s safety. Those issues do need to be dealt with immediately,
and treated seriously. Speak in a serious tone, using simple statements that
convey a clear meaning, like “We don’t hurt animals.” If these behaviors are
being repeated, it may be wise to speak to a child psychologist to discuss the
cause and a more effective solution. It’s important to sort out the root of these
situations sooner rather than later.

Many parents choose to bring pets into the
family as a teaching tool for children, hoping that animals will offer the kids
companionship and lessons in responsibility. However, it’s important to
consider whether you’re idealizing the situation. Kids at different ages respond
differently to animals and feel differently about the duties they’re expected to
carry out to care for the pet. If your children aren’t interested in caring for
your pet, consider the fact that some kids just aren’t “pet people”. Evaluate whether
you’re trying to push pet ownership on your kids. You can still expect them to
carry out their pet chores regularly and interact in a friendly way with your pet,
but you can’t force a friendship between them, and can’t guarantee that your kids
will necessarily ‘get it.’ Maybe they’ll come around someday, but for now,
just enjoy spending time with your pet.

Posted on 2012-08-01 by Amanda Harper