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Solving the Pet Care Problem

by Elizabeth Pantley, author of Kid Cooperation and Perfect Parenting

My son begged us incessantly for a dog. He promised he’d take care of it. Well, we finally got him the dog, but getting him to take care of his pet has become a daily battle. How do I get him to take responsibility for his pet?

Elizabeth Answers:
I certainly understand! My 7, 9 and 11 year old children recently were lucky enough to gain not one, but two (yes, two!) new puppies! As much as we’d like our kids to take over the pet care, we understand that children younger than age twelve simply don’t have the mental and physical ability to care for a pet on their own. They have good intentions, and a lot of love for their pets, but when it comes to daily care, it’s an enormous responsibility. I prefer to view this as an opportunity to teach our children responsibility. If you can accept that you will have to be a hands-on manager, and that your son will take over the pet care, little by little, as he gets older, you can all enjoy the benefits of having a family pet (or in my case – pets!)

Get organized:
With your help, have your child create a pet care chart. List everything that needs to be done on two separate lists, a daily list and weekly list. Copy the lists neatly on a large piece of poster board, each item followed by a series of boxes for check marks labeled by days of the week. Hang the poster in a conspicuous place, such as on your child’s bedroom door. Have him check off each box every day after the chore is completed. The chart serves two purposes. It gives your child a written “to do” list so that everything is remembered, and it provides the basis for developing a routine habit.

Create routines:
Tie pet care chores to other daily rituals to make them easier to remember. For example, feed the pet before dinner. That way, you can easily remind a child by saying, “As soon as the dog is fed, you’re welcome to have your dinner.”

Logical consequences:
Use logical consequences when a child forgets his pet chores. If your child forgets to feed his guinea pig in the morning, don’t allow him to take it out of the cage and play with it after school. If your child doesn’t pick up the dog poop in the yard, have him take the time to do it before he heads out to play. Teach your child that a pet’s care comes before playtime.

Make a Deal:
Let your child know in advance that if his pet care chores are not done when he leaves for school that you will do them for him. THEN, when he comes home from school, he can do a few of your chores. For example, if the dog’s food and water dishes are empty after your child leaves for the day, you fill them. When he returns home from school, show him the laundry basket full of socks and towels to be folded.

If All Else Fails:
If you’re already handling a majority of the pet care, and have to nag and plead for the kids to handle the rest, a simple change may get everyone’s attention. Announce that the pet is now going to be yours. Say something like this, “I have decided that Blackie is now going to be my dog. I will feed her and walk her and pick up her poop. If any of you kids want to play with her or walk her, you’ll need to ask me first. She will start sleeping in my room, beginning tonight.” When the kids cry and complain, tell them that five days from now you would be willing to reconsider. Spend the next five days being very possessive of Blackie. Take her with you when you leave the house, play happily with her in front of the children, deny the kids the right to take her for a walk, saying, “No thanks, I’ll do it myself.” After five days, and a major attitude adjustment on the part of the children, go back to using the above solutions to get them more involved in pet care. If this idea backfires, and the kids don’t seem to care, you’ll need to make a decision. Do you really want Blackie to be your dog? Or do you want to find her a new home? If you decide to sell the pet, don’t use this as a threat, simply announce that you feel it would be best for the dog to find it a new home, and then do it. Don’t be swayed by tears and promises if you’ve been through all of the above ideas and still find pet care to be a major issue.

Copyright Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

About the Author:
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of several books, including
Gentle Baby Care : No-cry, No-fuss, No-worry — Essential Tips for Raising Your Baby, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, Kid Cooperation (with an introduction by William Sears, MD), Perfect Parenting, as well as her latest The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers and is also president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues, and her newsletter, Parent Tips, is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest, and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. Visit Elizabeth’s web site

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