Teaching Kids How To Take Care of Pets
by
Jodie Lynn

'Tis the season to be jolly? No, it's not Christmas, it's the time of the year when children begin to ask for pets. "WE WANT A DOG," can be loudly heard around the globe. I'm serious. Go outside and put your ear to the ground. Hear it? How do kids learn how to take care of pets?

Sparky's Too Fat
By Jodie Lynn

Sherry Thompkins and her kids are piling into the car for their weekly trip to the park. As everyone climbs aboard, Jason shouts, "Move over Sparky ... you're too fat!"

Sparky is the family's Golden Retriever, and he's well beyond plump. Upon arrival, Sparky won't run and play with the kids; he soon tries to retreat to the car. "Mom, we need to get a new dog!" The trip is cut short and the kids want to go home.

That night right after dinner, Mom hears a scream. "Mom," yells Kyle, "Tyler is feeding Sparky his ice cream again!" As Mom turns the corner, Tyler quickly lets the ice cream fall to the floor. "Tyler, please don't feed the dog your ice cream ... he can barely walk as it is!"

Exasperated, Mom hurries off to finish putting the clothes in the dryer. Only a few minutes have passed ... "Mom, Megan is feeding Sparky her cake!" Mom is now running toward the dinner table and slips on the last bit of ice cream she didn't see before. Out of breath and almost in tears, Mom scolds, "Megan, I just told your brother not to feed Sparky his ice cream!"

"Well, that was ice cream and this is CHEESE cake -- Sparky's favorite!" Sherry thinks to herself, why did I let Tom bring this dog home in the first place.

In many households across America, this scenario is a reality. Even if there aren't any kids around, people still associate feeding their pets the food they eat with kindness and love. Sometimes pets are even fed table food like a garbage disposal: "Got table scraps? Give them to the animals. They'll eat anything!"

Can children learn to help take care of pets? In addition, just what is so bad about feeding our pets people food? Well, for starters, tell the kids just that -- our food is for people. Dogs and cats have very different systems than do humans and need their own food for their own diets.

Let the kids know that if they continue to feed pets people food, the pets can become sick: Their breath will smell bad, they may throw up, their teeth can fall out, they will get fat, and many will end up dying an early death.

Here are some quick tips to teach your children responsibilities on feeding and keeping a healthy pet:

1. Let the children know what the pets can and cannot have to eat and how much. Explain that Sparky doesn't get Fluffy's cat food and vice versa. Keep a measuring cup inside each bag of dried food. The cup should be put back inside the bag after it is used. For safety purposes, if using canned food, tell the kids you will open the cans. Supervise how much food is given. Don't forget to remind them to wash their hands after feeding the pets. Keep all pet food up and out of reach of small children.

2. Try to explain why it is harmful for pets to be fed people food. For small kids, this is a tougher job but can be done if you draw them a picture. Draw a picture of a skinny pet. Tell your kids that someone forgot to feed this pet and he may try to eat anything, even their favorite stuffed animals! He has no energy and needs his own food made just for him with the right vitamins and nutrients. This will help him to grow big and strong and have clean teeth.

Let your child draw a picture of a fat pet (easier for little fingers) and demonstrate how this pet has been fed too much by pointing to the big fat tummy. If it's not too scary, draw your pet without teeth. Tell them, just like us, if they get too much sticky and unhealthy food on their teeth, the teeth will fall out. Use these pictures to show how the fat animal doesn't have any energy and doesn't like to run and play.

3. Explain how exercise and the right food combination go hand in hand. Read a book together about how important exercise is to your pet. If the children are under the age of eight, allow them to help to walk the pet. Moreover, depending on the size of the animal and area where he is to be walked, supervision may be required for a few more years. Children, larger animals, and busy streets don't work out very well.

Tell kids if the pet has had the right kind of food for his own body system, he will enjoy going for a walk and even want to run and play. Teaching the dog how to catch a ball or fetch a Frisbee can be good exercise for everyone!

4. Keep a chart of activities for the animals. A wipe-off board works best. Get the kids involved in the entire process of pet care. Ask the vet to explain to the kids how important it is to feed, bathe, and play with the pet. Let each child take a turn at a different activity each week. Make it fun so they will want to participate.

Clap when Tyler eats his ice cream and gives Sparky a doggie treat -- clap again when Sparky eats his treat. Put a check by each child's name when they do something for the pet. At the end of each month, each child can earn points to pick out something for the pet: a bag of new food, chew bone, shampoo, a new walking path, etc.

5. Tell the children what a good job they are doing. Pets are a great way to teach kids responsibility and self-esteem. Say, "Thanks, Megan, for eating your cake and letting Sparky have room in his tummy for his own healthy food." Show them how much he is supposed to weigh and how he is growing to be healthy and strong to stay around for a long time. Take pictures and keep them posted on the fridge. As the kids get older, their responsibilities and appreciation for the pet -- and even their relationship with each other -- will grow.

By the way, the next time the Thompkins go to the park, Sparky may get to sit right beside one of the kids -- and still have room for one more person. He's now lost all the weight he wasn't supposed to have in the first place and loves to run around at the park.

Now if they could only figure out how to get him back into the car to head home ...

Jodie Lynn is an internationally syndicated parenting/family columnist. If you are a writer, check our her new Ebook, Syndication Secrets to see how you can make success happen! Her latest paperback book is Mommy-CEO: 5 Golden Rules, 2001 revised edition. (It's not just for moms and has a handy prayer in the back!) Please see ParentToParent.com for more details and check out the brand new LOGO (located in the left hand lower corner of the main page) on our Mommy, CEO merchandise: hoodies, caps, calendars, cups, etc.- items for the real CEOs!

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