Offering your child a reward for good behavior, high grades or accomplishments is natural and a great way to encourage that good behavior to continue.
How you reward your kiddos is up to you, whether it’s a new toy, a visit to the zoo or a movie night.
But you know what isn’t cool? Using an animal as a reward. And abandoning your pet as a means to punish your child? Ugh! That’s even worse.
A Pet Is Not an Inanimate Object
I remember going to summer carnivals when I was younger and seeing all the classic games and the amazing prizes. Some booths offered toys or stuffed animals. Others offered real animals, like birds, fish or rabbits.
Pop enough balloons with a dart, and you could take a bunny home — no parental permission required and no application needed. I was fascinated by that idea when I was 10.
Now? I’m appalled.
Although those prizes are less common these days, live animals are still awarded at festivals (sometimes unlawfully), and far too often those animals end up abandoned outside or in a shelter because the children winning the prizes aren’t prepared for the responsibility.
This same problem occurs when parents give their children pets as rewards.
Reality After the Surprise
Animals are living things who require care and attention. Bringing home a fuzzy new kitten as a gift for a child who got straight A’s on her report card is doing more than just rewarding her.
Remember that a cat:
- Can live 15 years or more
- Requires annual checkups at the veterinarian
- Needs attention and interaction daily
- Must be fed and given water every day
- Needs a clean litter box
That’s an awful lot of responsibility to place on your child as a reward.
Although the initial response may be ecstatic joy, eventually the novelty of an adorable kitten may wear off and, whether or not Mr. Buttons was given to your child, you’re the adult who is ultimately responsible for his care.
Before bringing home a kitten, make sure it’s a responsibility that you are ready to take on.
Does the Reward Fit the Accomplishment?
What sort of accomplishment deserves a pet as a reward?
All too often, the good deed doesn’t have anything to do with caring for an animal. Although doing exceptionally well in math class may merit a prize, it certainly doesn’t prepare anyone to take care of a pet.
Before promising your child a live animal if she aces her algebra exam, sit down and discuss the responsibilities involved. Is she prepared? And, more important, are you prepared?
“Disposing” of a Pet as Punishment Is Cruel
What happens when a child is given a pet and then stops caring for the animal?
I can’t count how many times people brought their dogs to the shelter because their kids weren’t taking care of the family pup. As punishment for the child’s lack of mature discipline, Mom and Dad drop Socks off at the shelter.
This is cruelest lesson because it affects more than just a child — it also punishes the dog and the shelter. And it teaches the child that pets are disposable, like a broken toy.
- Loyal friends
- Enthusiastic playmates
- Exercise partners
- Family members
But they should never be a punishment. Cherish the love your dog offers and bask in his affection and silliness instead.
Watch these kids learn what it takes to be responsible pet caregivers:
When It’s OK for a Pet to Be a Reward
Offering a pet as a reward is often a compulsive decision, one that can end with that animal sitting in a shelter. However, in some rare circumstances, it’s appropriate to adopt a new furry family member as a reward.
Consider opening your home to a pet if:
- Your entire family agrees on the adoption.
- Everyone is willing to help care for your new addition.
- The adults in your home accept full responsibility.
If you’re ready for a new pet but want to prepare your child, consider adopting the new puppy as a reward after your kiddo has proven he’s ready by helping out with neighbor dogs (walking, playing, etc.) or spending time caring for pets at the local shelter. Or pick up a book about pet care and ask your child to read it first.
Whenever you choose to bring home a new pet — whether you’re rewarding your kids or not — be sure that everyone is prepared and you’ve made an informed decision.