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Pets Can Teach Children How to Nurture and Care

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Children Develop Caregiving Skills with Pets

Children in homes with pets have great opportunities to develop critical caregiving abilities and social skills.  When children are encouraged to participate in caring for family pets at age appropriate levels they can begin to learn how to nurture and care for others.

Pets are not threatening and can be stress reducers for children.  Providing simple care based on a child's individual abilities will sow seeds of joy and responsibility.

Caring for pets is a neutral activity that is almost always a good fit for children.  Use these tips:

  • Praise your child often to make the experience positive.
  • Create a simple reward program using stickers, extra playtime, games or outings as treats.
  • A daily chart can provide your child with visual evidence of results and rewards.

Check with your veterinarian for more ideas to create the best home for your pets.

Gail Melson, author of Why the Wild Things Are:  Animals in the Lives of Children has been watching animals and children for some time.  She estimates that of every ten children, four grow up in a home that includes domestic animals.  She has determined that as many as 90 percent of all youngsters live with a pet at some point during their childhood.

Living with pets and caring for them can teach both boys and girls great lessons.

Young girls are usually encouraged to play with dolls and play house.  Girls learn to care and often actively begin tending to others in the home before the age of eight.  Girls will play dress-up with their animals, dolls and siblings.  Later, girls may become babysitters in their home or neighborhood. The social and caregiving skills learned in these activities are useful to girls throughout their lives.

"Nurturing animals is especially important for boys," Melson says.  Young boys are usually not encouraged similarly and may miss out on the opportunity to learn caregiving skills.  Balls, cars and sports typically occupy the interest of young boys.  Boys can care for pets in their home without fear of criticism or reproach; they are merely caring for their dog, cat, hamster or other animal.  Actually providing the care becomes the only issue and boys are able to feel comfortable with nurturing.  Taking care of an animal is not gender specific and both boys and girls can always remain equally involved.

"Nurturing isn't a quality that suddenly appears in adulthood when we need it," Dr. Melson advises. "And you don't learn to nurture because you were nurtured as a child.  People need a way to practice being caregivers when they're young."  Household pets provide frequent opportunities for young boys and girls to develop nurturing habits.  Caregiving for animals teaches them responsibility for seeing that the family dog or cat receives fresh water and food at certain times throughout the day.

Children can provide simple care from a very young age and fill greater needs as their abilities allow.  Caring for the family pets can also help children expand their sense of self awareness and develop an awareness about other people, time or space.  Children will also to develop their ability to anticipate needs.

Helping your child to become responsible for pets in your home needs to occur on a step-by-step basis.  The process must be implemented according to your child's cognitive abilities and physical abilities.  Remember that each child is different and has different levels of capabilities when you begin talking to them about caring for your household pets.

When your child is the responsible party for providing care for a pet in your home, always remember that you'll still need to keep your eye on the water dishes, food bowls, walks and potty trips.  You may find it necessary to provide gentle reminders for your child.  Creating happy notes and making simple awards like stickers, stars or allowing extra playtime will make the transition more fun for your child.  Involving the whole family to encourage your child will increase his or her success and enjoyment.

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Testimonial

Don't take a good vet for granted, that's what I say. I currently live in another state and have taken my 10 year old dog to numerous vets over the years (California, Colorado, Vegas, and then some). Never have I ever received the attention and care I've gotten w/Dr. Hines. Within the past 3 months alone, my dog went to 3 different vets for a horrible and painful skin problem that broke out all over her body.

The first vet: I spent more time ponying up the $175 for the visit than the Dr. spent actually looking at my dog. He performed a woods lamp exam for ringworm. Even without Google or a veterinary degree, I could tell it wasn't ringworm. Thanks for taking my money.
Second vet: "Here's some spray, now here's your bill. Bring her back in two weeks so I can charge you another visit." No tests, nothing.
Between the two, I felt like I got nowhere. No definitive answer on why this affected my dog and the medication given wasn't even for a diagnosed condition. Just some general topical spray. I could have bought it at Petsmart and saved myself the time and money.
Recently, on a visit to Idaho, I planned ahead to bring my dog to the Rupert Animal Clinic. I asked the same questions, had the same concerns and now have different results. Dr. Hines gave me options on what route to take, ran appropriate tests and communicated with me every step of the way (even calling me personally when test results came in). My primary concern was cancer. Our dog is like our child- we'll pay the money if we can keep her healthy and safe. In the future, I've resolved to bring my dog to Rupert Animal Clinic on our annual trip for all of her exams. I know she won't be treated as a little cash cow to exploit an owner's love for pets.

Sung L.
Rupert, ID

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