Congratulations on your new pet! Undoubtedly, your household is excited about the new addition to your family, including your child. Adopting a rescue pet presents an opportunity to teach your child responsibility while giving you the satisfaction of knowing you made a compassionate choice. To make this experience the best it possibly can be, it helps to understand and shape the roles and expectations both you and your child will have regarding your new pet.
Teaching Children Responsibility
Having a pet means responsibility, making it a great lesson for children to learn to care for another. By adopting a rescue pet, you’re also teaching your child to care for an animal that needs a home. It’s all about conscious choices and considering the entire picture when making such an important decision. If this experience is new for both of you, it will help to review a few simple suggestions.
Part of teaching responsibility is establishing ground rules. You will need to reinforce these rules many times. Caring for a pet is just as much about teaching your child as it is about tending to the pet’s needs. In many ways, the processes are similar as you’ll soon learn.
Children tend to be very empathetic and are naturally excited to learn and take on responsibility. This empathy and natural desire to be responsible will become particularly important with a rescue animal. Often, rescue pets have had a rough start in life, often coming from abandonment or abuse. Sometimes, they lack an opportunity for all-important early socialization skills that are so vital for a quality pet-owner relationship. Working through these issues often requires a great deal of patience.
The first step for teaching children to care for adopted and rescued pets is to help them understand that a new pet needs to be treated with care. Just like a baby, strange noises and a new home may frighten the newest furry addition to your family. Encouraging your child to use their indoor voice around the new pet is one of the ground rules you’ll need to enforce. Teaching your child to let the new pet come to them rather than forcing themself on the new pet is necessary in the beginning as well. This is important so your new pet can acclimate to their new family and surroundings.
Building a Routine
Following a routine for pet care will help both your rescue pet and your child transition into their new relationship. It will help reinforce the training process as well as create a strong bond between the two of them. You should set up routines for feeding, playing, grooming, and treats.
Routines help set boundaries for both your child and your pet. Both will learn that there are set times for feeding, playing, training, and sleeping. If you’ve had trouble getting your child to take naps, seeing the importance for quiet time firsthand with a new pet may be just the thing you need to get your little one to take a much-needed rest.
Set feeding times are particularly important for the health of your pet. One of the early signs of health issues often appears as a lack of appetite. With this routine in place, you can make sure your new pet isn’t missing meals. At this point in his life, proper nutrition is essential.
Like routines, it’s essential to set boundaries with your rescued pet, both literally and figuratively. Your child needs to understand that your pet has his things like bedding and food and water bowls. And those items belong to your pet. Just like your child won’t want anyone to take away a favorite treat, your pet feels the same way. Teaching a child to respect another’s space and belongings is a tremendously important life skill that can be introduced through respect for a pet.
Setting boundaries includes keeping your new pet on a feeding schedule. That means you’ll need to enforce limits on treats. Your child will likely want to give your pet more treats than he should get each day but this is easily remedied by keeping them out of reach and only bringing them out at appropriate times. Giving too many treats to a new pet could make it difficult to gauge their appetite at designated feeding times.
Your child also needs to respect your pet’s space. If he is sleeping or eating, your child must learn to leave your pet alone. Likewise, a pet that is acting fearful or angry won’t respond well if your child chases or harasses him. Again, this is a wonderful opportunity to introduce your child to the proper way to approach another living being that may have suffered trauma earlier in its life. Over time, offering a gentle hand, patience and consistency to the new pet will show your child that forging a bond happens over time, through reading another living being’s cues and responding to their needs appropriately.
Discipline and Training
Training your rescue pet provides an opportunity to reinforce other lessons that your child may need to learn or need refreshed. A new puppy or kitten will likely make mistakes. They may relieve themselves in inappropriate places, chew on household items, or make noise at the wrong time. Teething puppies have been known to shoes and a kitten may climb the drapes.
Discipline should not be delegated to a child but should remain the responsibility of the adult. Talking to the child about actions and consequences for the pet will reaffirm something they are learning through their own choices. This offers another way for your child to observe proper training in action and reinforce consequences for undesirable behaviors.
This also provides an opportunity to show your child, by example, that physical punishment isn’t the answer. If a puppy chews on a sock you can replace it with a toy instead of a slap on the snout. Perhaps a timeout is in order and the puppy needs some kennel time? Forgiveness and unconditional love are priceless lessons.
Your Child’s Role
Don’t fall into the pattern of taking over complete control of the new pet. After all, teaching responsibility was likely part of the reason you decide to adopt a pet. To keep that relationship intact, make your child a part of the entire process of owning a pet and guide them toward making appropriate decisions for that new family member.
When your pet has finished a meal, let your child wash the food bowl. Have your child come with you when it is time for a walk. When it’s time to pick up after your pet or clean the litter box, make sure your child knows this is part of pet ownership too and permit them to help with this chore. While they may make a bigger mess that it seems to be worth letting them help, they will learn. Over time, your child will gain competence and confidence through their ability to improve at these basic tasks.
By making your child a part of the entire process, they will understand what’s involved and have have a better grasp of the level of responsibility accompanying caring for another living being. You will also teach your child that choices have consequences, action and reaction. Sometimes, they are a lot of fun, and other times, they are not.
Teaching your child to care for adopted and rescued pets is one of the most valuable life lessons they can learn. It allows you to teach your child responsibility and compassion for an animal that is now dependent on the child for care and their basic needs. It also gives you as the parent an excellent opportunity to let your child see & feel what good discipline and unconditional love look and feel like when applied to another.