How to keep your kids interested in their pets

Did your son or daughter beg you for a furry friend for Christmas, but quickly lost interest? How can you keep them involved?

Posted: 22 January 2017

How to keep your kids interested in their pets

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Did your son or daughter beg you for a hamster or some gerbils for Christmas, but now the excitement of having a new addition to the household has calmed down they’ve lost interest? How can you keep them involved and start them on a journey of a lifetime of pet love?

“I promise I’ll remember to feed him”, “I will clean out their cage every week”, “I’ll never forget to change their water”… How many parents have heard their children utter these phrases, only to find that caring for the new pet so desperately wished for is suddenly left to them.

Animal-loving children may be full of good intentions, but, if it’s their first pet, they will have no idea about the responsibility they’ve taken on and, as is the wont of many youngsters, quickly lose interest. This is bad news all round – for the child who is missing out on fascinating animal interactions, the parent who ends up doing the looking after and the pet, who may not get the enriching life they deserve. The way to tackle this is with parenting pet plan! Here are some ideas to get you started…

>>> Make a list of all pet-care responsibilities and talk with your children about which chores they feel they can handle. Discuss why the chore is important and what could happen to their pet if the chore is not done (the animal could go hungry or get sick, for example). Make sure all family members are involved, and rotate chores, always being sure they are age appropriate. For example, a four-year-old can’t be expected to clean the guinea pigs’ cage, but she can line the bottom with newspaper and refill the water bottle. Remember to act as a role model as children can learn a lot about responsible pet care by watching you.

>>> Encourage them to learn as much as possible about the new pet to get them interested in all the facets of their care – maybe they can do a report on the animal for school, or help teach their friends about their pet? Most children will be hooked on finding out that degus come from Chile where they live in large groups, making their homes in rocks or hedges, and are very sociable and fearless – or that guinea pigs use sounds as a primary means of communication and you can learn what their different squeaks, whistles and purrs mean – or that chinchillas need to take frequent dust baths to absorb skin oils and dirt from their fur to keep their coats clean and healthy…

>>> Rather than telling them off for not cleaning out the hamster’s cage, talk to your child about the difference they can make to their pet’s life, and how it will make the hamster much happier to be in clean, snug bedding and why you are trusting them to care properly for their pet. Most children will respond positively to this level of responsibility – but always keep a close eye on them. If children constantly miss feedings or cage cleanings, they should be gently reminded that animals need food, water, exercise and good hygiene just like people do. As frustrated as you may feel, don’t make the children feel guilty about their inconsistent pet-care routines. Too much criticism can cause feelings of failure in themselves or anger toward the innocent pet. Instead, find out why chores aren’t getting done and look at ways to renew your children’s interest in their responsibilities.

>>> Praise your children every time they perform a pet chore without you having to tell them. Using a fun pet activity as a reward, such as playing or cuddling with the pet, is always a good idea. Positively reinforcing responsible behaviour will increase the likelihood of it reoccurring. As time goes on and your children become accustomed to their pet-care responsibilities, you can decrease the continuous praise, but still make a point of congratulating them from time to time so they will keep being a good pet owner.

>>> Don’t associate pet responsibilities with rewards or punishments not related to the pet itself. For example, if a child does poorly on a test at school, don’t take away playtime with the pet or assign an extra negative pet chore as a punishment. That can introduce frustration or resentment toward the animal.

>>> Introducing new games, toys, or training can be a great way to add dimension to your kids’ relationship with their pet. Keep a jar of loose change so that once a month your child can choose a new toy for their pet.

>>> Get your child to sign-up to relevant, age appropriate pet and animal websites such as CBeebies (www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/topics/animals) and National Geographic Kids (www.ngkids.co.uk) where they can learn lots of fascinating things about the amazing world of animals, which should keep them interested for a lifetime!

Sources: mspca.org/ parenting.com

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