We currently have a cute, little cat as our family pet. But our family has had dogs, a bird, fish, and a hamster over the years. We love our pets and they bring joy and fun to our lives. All members of the family are responsible for taking care of our critters but it is an excellent chance to teach some practical life skills to our kids.
Types of Life Skills
I usually break down life skills into “activity” based and “character” based. Taking pet care skills can be broken down the same way. Activity based skills that kids can learn from caring for a pet include organization, scheduling, and the actual care. Pets have things like toys, equipment, food, shampoo, etc. All of these things need to be organized and kept neat and clean. This is something that the kids can do. Animals have plenty of things that require scheduling like vet appointments, feedings, walking, etc. The actual care that pets require might include playing, brushing, bathing, etc. All of these activities can be done by children, with help if needed.
Character based skills include responsibility, patience, and empathy. Feeding the dog on time and making sure that he has fresh water throughout the day takes responsibility. Teaching a dog to sit or brushing the cat can teach patience. Taking the dog outside to take a potty break or just to play requires empathy and compassion. These are just a few of the skills needed to care for a pet.
Not all kids are ready to be responsible for a pet. They might need help with all the tasks or just not be interested in a pet at the time. This needs to be kept in mind if you are getting a pet, especially for the first time. There are some skills that might be better for an older child to do like taking the dog for a walk. Setting out the food dish could be handled by a younger child. This is something that needs to be thought about for each child.
All pets need certain things: food, shelter and love. Some pets also require special places for a potty break, outside or inside. All of these things need to be cared for each day, many of them multiple times. To be sure each need is met we make a list of all the things that the pet needs each day. This lets everyone know what is needed. We also assign who should be doing what. For our cat we feed her twice a day and give her fresh water three to four times each day. So I have FEED on the list twice and WATER on the list four times. Here is an example of our current list:
- FEED (morning) = Kate
- WATER (morning) = Kate
- BRUSH (morning) = CJ
- PLAY BALL (afternoon) = CJ
- WATER (afternoon) = CJ
- BATHE (SATURDAY afternoon) = Kate
- CHANGE LITTERBOX (SATURDAY afternoon) = Mom
- FEED (evening) = Kate
- WATER (evening) = Kate
- CLEAN LITTERBOX (evening) = Kate
- WATER (night) = CJ
When we make a list we also explain why each item or task is important. The kids need to understand why each step should be done and how it helps the pet. We want our pets to be healthy and happy and all of the things we do for them help to keep them that way. Letting our kids take part in caring for the animals we make part of our families is a great way to teach them skills they need now and in the future.