Teaching Your Child to be Pet-Responsible

If you'd like your child to learn about responsibility, try getting a pet. At a very early age, children can learn the importance of responsibility, and as a result can learn important life lessons such as discipline, patience, kindness and attentiveness. If they are good pet owners, chances are they will be able to take on the responsibility of being adults and eventually parents.

Things Young Children Should Learn

The most important point if you have young children and a cat is that young children should never be left alone with a cat. This is to protect both the child and the pet. Young children have no idea that squeezing, hitting, pinching or stepping on a cat can inflict pain. It isn't fair to put your child or your pet into a scary situation, and if a very young child doesn't know how to treat a cat, the cat may feel threatened and lash out at the child. Even if you feel your child "knows better," children are curious and experimental, and you can't depend on responsible behavior all of the time.

Training should start early. Very young children can learn about humane treatment and can learn how to interact appropriately. They should learn which parts of the animal's body can be touched and how and when to pet them. They should learn not to disturb the cat when he is resting, eating or playing with his favorite toy. They should learn that animals are not toys and can feel pain.

One good way to teach youngsters is to role play. The child can pretend to be a kitty – great fun – and you can be the child. Pet the "kitty" gently and remind the child how nice it feels. Talk to the "kitty" and play with him the way you want your child to do it in real life. You are the role model and children look to adults for the proper way to act.

You should always teach your children to wash their hands with soap and water after handling their pet.

Taking on Responsibility

As children grow older they become ready to accept responsibility for the care of the pet. Start slowly by having your child participate with you.

When training children to care for a pet, try not to expect too much. As the saying goes, "children will be children," and children learn more through success than failure. Start by giving small tasks and increase responsibility gradually, but only when you feel the child is ready.