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Pet related chores for children: how young is too young?

Floor cleaning, Lifestyle & pet

Pets hold a dear place in the hearts of many, adults and children alike. Whether it’s as a playmate, cuddle buddy or confidant, pets have been found to help nurture qualities of commitment, compassion and empathy within children. Allowing children the opportunity to get involved in routine pet-related chores is a fantastic way to teach them about the value of responsibility and what that entails. While the adults will inevitably be responsible for the overall well being of pets (much to the disagreement of children worldwide), even very young children can get involved when it comes to caring for family pets.

Why routine?

Knowing what to expect each day encourages feelings of safety and security within pets. So why not take advantage of the new school year, and set your family up for success with a few productive, pet related routines.

Who should do what?

Age, disposition, and maturity level of the child all need to be taken into account when deciding which pet related chores they are capable of helping out with and which may need to wait a while. Most parents will understand that no two six-year-olds are the same.

As a general guideline, children of the following ages are usually capable of effectively carrying out the following chores:

Ages 6 and under:

  1. Helping to walk the dog. Small children should not be solely entrusted with the leash for safety reasons. At this age they don’t have the strength, motor skills, or ability to make an educated response instantly that is required for this task. Instead, allow them to join you on walks. This helps illustrate to them the value of exercise and the importance of the task.
  2. Assisting with meals. While you may need to measure the food portions out yourself (or open the packaging), let the child pour the food into the bowl, or place the bowl down for the animal. (This is only advised if the animal doesn’t get overly worked up during meal times and is gentle enough considering the size and the age of the child.)
  3. Grooming. Encouraging a child to help with gently brushing your cat or dog can be a wonderful way to encourage a positive relationship between the two. Best to supervise this one though, as some children tend to err on the slightly more enthusiastic side when it comes to brushing pets, which may leave your pet a little concerned.
  4. Playtime. This can be as simple as tossing a ball for a pet across the floor or out in the garden. Something even this simple can provide children with a sense of pride and ownership when it comes to their pet, and foster a sense responsibility later down the road. Again, however, adult supervision is strongly encouraged.

Ages 7 – 12:

  1. Meal times. Older children are able to effectively take on greater responsibility in the arena of meal time. It is important to ensure that children understand the importance of the task and getting it right. This means that portions of food need to be the correct size, and bowls should be cleaned out afterwards.
  2. Scooping out the litter box or picking up dog waste. Arguably one of the least popular pet-centric chore, this is one that can cause battles down the road. As a result, it’s important to establish good habits early on in the pet ownership or child rearing (whichever comes later). Children need to be taught how to do this properly, as well as how to wash up properly afterwards.
  3. Helping with bathing. This chore has the potential for extreme results, one way or the other. (Anybody with a headstrong child or pet will know this.) A useful tip is to task children with specific duties that they are capable of managing with little fuss. Examples could include handing over the soap, or drying off the dog.
  4. Training. Encouraging your older children to get involved in training your pup will not only help streamline the training process, but will also give your child a sense of confidence in themselves and personal investment in the behaviour of your dog. This makes them less likely to be tempted to enforce bad habits, such as feeding your pet under the table during dinner.
  5. Cleaning. One of the less obvious chores (to children at least) when it comes to pet ownership is cleaning. This includes vacuuming up what may seem like an endless supply of pet hair and dander. This is one of the best ways to illustrate the full scope of responsibility when looking after pets. While children may well be too young to do the actual vacuuming themselves, involving them in the process by asking them to help with moving items while you vacuum is recommended. For a little additional help, see BISSELL’s range of pet-friendly cleaning products. 

Families with multiple children may find it helpful to create a chart that documents each of the pet related chores and who is responsible for each. Remember that chores should be age appropriate for each child, and try to rotate chores where possible so that one child isn’t forever doomed to clean out the kitty litter! 

Additional practical tips to help you foster pet-friendly routines:

Feed your pet at the same time daily. This will help improve their overall digestive processes, as well as keep energy levels stable.

Make after school time ‘walk or play’. This is a great time to get the kids involved. Both kids and pets will be able to expend excess energy, which ultimately means fewer distractions during homework time.

Have a schedule and keep to it.  Like kids, pets aren’t always huge fans of bath time. Allowing pets to play, perform tricks and enjoy treats during bath time should help ease the bath time battles.

Practice an obedience refresher course with your dog(s) weekly. This will help to prevent bad habits developing over time.

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