In any family with pets, providing safe and responsible care needs to be a priority. Children, especially, learn empathy and responsibility by caring for the family pet. Teaching kids pet care is easy, so long as age-appropriate tasks are chosen.
While not necessarily suitable for any heavy-duty tasks, toddlers can measure food and pour it in the bowl. They also can gently help brush and groom, and love watching almost anything going on in the household.
Preschoolers can easily feed pets. They also may learn to give pets water, play games, and help clean out cages of small furry critters. Preschoolers begin learning the mechanics of a proper diet as they learn what foods different pets eat, and why it is important to feed pets a specific diet.
Elementary school aged children can clean out cages of small animals unsupervised. They also can groom pets (though probably not toenails) and play with dogs, cats, and small critters. They’re old enough to teach pets simple tricks, especially if encouraged to do so.
Middle school aged children can perform almost all care tasks required of pets. They shouldn’t walk large or unruly dogs, but can be held responsible for all the care most pets require. Children this age can easily be taught to clip toenails, use clippers, and clean up feces. Maybe not easy on that last one.
At this age, they also can be taught the signs of illness in pets. They should learn the differences in body condition, and discuss nutrition and the importance of a quality diet. Most empathetic middle schoolers will research their pet’s dietary needs and begin offering suggestions about better care for their pets.
High School Kids
High school kids should be able to care for a pet independently. While an adult should check on the pet periodically (more, if the child is less responsible), a 15 year old is perfectly capable of making good decisions about their pet’s care.
Remember they may need assistance providing the pet’s needs. They may need money for feed or bedding, a ride to the store to get supplies, or support when they are busy with other extra-curricular plans.
If your high-schooler will go away to college, remember to make a plan for the pet once the child has left. It might involve you keeping the pet permanently. Don’t allow your children to acquire a pet you don’t plan on keeping for it’s lifespan. Even if your child is able to take their pet to college, never count on it until it happens. As the parents, you are ultimately responsible for that animal’s life.
Pet care teaches children responsibility and empathy. They learn to care about others’ feelings, and practice empathetic behavior every time they interact with their pet or provide it’s needs. This provides a basic emotional need for children, and is incredibly important for interpersonal relationships. Read more about why every kid needs a pet.