You’ve finally given into the begging and pleading: You’re bringing home a pet.
Kids are drawn to animals. If they’ve reached the age where they understand the joy puppies, kittens and other critters provide, you’ve undoubtedly heard all about it. A new pet brings new life into your family, giving opportunities for bonding, family playtime and lessons in responsibility.
The benefits of raising a pet with your kids are hard to ignore. Before bringing your new furry (or feathered, scaly or maybe even slimy) friend home, learn how to prepare your kids for its arrival. Follow these steps for a more seamless transition into the world of family pet care.
Remember when you had to baby-proof your home in preparation for the arrival of your kids? Bringing home a pet isn’t much different, especially if it’s a puppy or kitten capable of finding its way into risky situations.
Not sure where to start? A trip to your local Target and a tour down the baby aisles might help.
Major points to keep in mind:
- Hide and cover all electrical cords.
- Secure the trashcan.
- Keep all medications and cleaning products out of reach.
- Close off doors.
- Keep the floors clear and clean.
2. Set Expectations
Your kids need to know what to expect from a new pet. They also need to know what to expect from you. Will they play a big role in the care process? Will they need to feed the pet each morning or take them out in the afternoon?
Helping raise a pet is a great way to instill a sense of responsibility, though you should avoid using pets to punish your kids. Help them by setting expectations and rules ahead of time.
3. Create a Schedule
A simple way to get your family involved in pet care responsibilities is to keep a calendar on the fridge.
Assign daily tasks to each person in the family (make sure to include yourself). Keep a stack of stickers next to the calendar your kids can use to “check off” their daily tasks. You can even give rewards for tasks being done by a certain time, like extra one-on-one time with the pet.
Having a schedule creates accountability for everyone in the family. With stickers involved, you can create a level of “gamification” for your kids, too.
Not sure which tasks to assign? With a new dog, for example, your calendar could include:
- Breakfast by 8 a.m.
- 10-minute walk by 9 a.m.
- Give 2 bathroom breaks by 10 a.m.
- Playtime with a toy for 20 minutes.
- Water bowl cleaning and refilling.
Your list can grow and expand as you find new activities that get your children involved in the care process. The most important part? Make these “tasks” seem like privileges. Your child doesn’t have to take care of their pet—they get to.
4. Understand Pet Language
Dogs, cats and other pets speak a different language than your kids. They don’t always see giant bear hugs as loving. They might not be excited about getting their faces squished by a tiny set of hands.
To ensure your kids and pets become the best of friends, teach your children how to interact with them properly. Go over big rules, like no chasing, teasing or taking away food.
Make sure to teach all the basics, too, like:
- No faces next to mouths or claws.
- Avoid bothering the pet while they are sleeping.
- Keep sudden movements to a minimum.
- Always use gentle affection.
Kids don’t typically understand when or how they’re upsetting a pet or if their hugs or petting is too forceful. Teach them how to speak their future pet’s language ahead of time, or even better, demonstrate and practice with a friend or family member’s pet.
There are several ways kids can benefit from caring for a pet, as seen in this video:
5. Test Run
Before introducing a new pet into the family, spend some time with other animals. See how your kids interact with dogs, cats, birds and hamsters. Watch their body language. Are they scared, or do they love it?
One of the best ways to get a realistic picture of how your family will handle a pet is to take care of one for a few days. Is a friend or family member heading out of town soon? Offer to take care of their pet. Introduce feeding, bathroom and playtime routines to your kids to make sure they understand the level of responsibility pets require.
Of course, your kids don’t have to be perfect with the pet right off the bat for you to bring one into the family. It takes time to establish new routines, and caring for the life of an animal will take practice.
Above all, the number 1 rule to remember is raising a pet requires patience, with both your kids and your new family member. By setting expectations and planning ahead of time, your family’s transition can be fun, exciting and rewarding.