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How Pets Teach Kids Responsibility

Getting kids involved with the daily care and feeding of family pets is a win-win-win: Your mini helpers get to practice valuable life skills like responsibility, commitment, compassion, and respect. Their furry (or feathered or scaly) sibling gets all the love and attention it deserves. And you get some much-appreciated help!

While it’s usually super-exciting to bring a pet home, it can definitely take some effort to get kids on board with the mundane but still-important tasks of keeping it happy and healthy. Playing fetch is way (like, way) more fun than scooping up poo! So whether you already have a pet or you’re just thinking about it, ask kids to think about how their animal (or animal-to-be) is just like them: It breathes. It eats. It gets hungry. It needs to go to the bathroom. It likes to play. When they can identify with their pet’s needs, it becomes a lot harder to argue about whose turn it is to fill the water dish.

Obviously, the age of your kids will impact how much of the actual work you still have to shoulder, but even littles under 5 can help with simple tasks like drying the cat’s dish or giving the fish a pinch of food. One key to drumming up enthusiasm—these are ultimately chores, after all—is to allow the children to choose which pet responsibilities they’d like to take on. That freedom fosters a sense of ownership over the tasks, which makes following through easier. We’ve got a list of basic responsibilities below for dogs, cats, fish, and pocket pets like hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs. Review them with your kids, add your own as necessary, and have them pick the ones they think they can do daily (or as needed). To help them keep track, download and print our pet responsibilities log. Post it on the fridge for easy access and reminding—and don’t forget to praise your peanuts for a job well-done!

DOGS

Feeding*

Filling water dish

Walking

Playing games

Picking up toys

• Brushing

• Scooping poop

*Kids under 10 shouldn’t feed dogs unsupervised—pups can get feisty around their food!

CATS

Feeding

Filling water dish

Scooping litter box

Playing games

Picking up toys

• Brushing

FISH

Feeding

Changing the water regularly

• Cleaning the tank

HAMSTERS, GERBILS, GUINEA PIGS

Feeding

Filling up water bottle

Cleaning the cage