Some kids will promise to do anything in order get a new pet, but it can quickly become a challenge to get them to follow through with their pet-care chores after the novelty wears off (and trust us, it will). Planning, parental involvement and open communication can make pet ownership a positive experience for all family members.
1. Make a list of all pet-care responsibilities, and talk with your children about which chores they feel they can handle. It's better to give a child an easy daily chore than a difficult one that occurs less frequently. Discuss why the chore is important and what could happen to their pet if the chore is not done (the animal could go hungry or get sick, for example). Make sure all family members participate in chores, and rotate those chores. Remember to serve as a role model. Children can learn responsible pet care by observing your behavior.
2. Make a dedicated effort to praise your children every time they perform a pet chore without you having to tell them. Using a fun pet activity as a reward, such as playing or cuddling with the pet, is always a good idea. Positively reinforcing responsible behavior will increase the likelihood of it reoccurring. As time goes on and your children become accustomed to their pet-care responsibilities, you can decrease the continuous praise, but still make a point of congratulating them from time to time so they will keep being a good pet owner.
3. Don't associate pet responsibilities with rewards or punishments not related to the pet itself. For example, if a child does poorly on a test at school, don't take away playtime with the pet or assign an extra negative pet chore as a punishment. That can introduce frustration or resentment toward the animal. But it is a good idea to have your children do a "less fun" pet chore in order to enjoy a "more fun" pet activity. This helps children understand that caring for pets involves not just the fun socializing, but also the tedious housekeeping.
4. Introduce new games, toys or training to add motivation for your kids to continue interacting with the pet. Encouraging your children to learn as much as possible about their pet is a great way to keep them interested in all facets of their care.
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