How to Teach Kids to Treat Pets Kindly

Teach kids to treat pets kindly
Sarah Wolfe Photography/ Moment / Getty Images

Kids don’t instinctively know how to take care of their pets. In fact, young children often struggle to understand the difference between stuffed animals and live pets. Robotic dogs, talking cats, and fur-real animals blur the lines between living breathing creatures and toys.

And it’s not just preschoolers who struggling to recognize the importance of caring for pets. Without proper teaching, older children may also struggle to treat animals respectfully.

Whether you’ve got a toddler and an older dog, or you’re thinking of getting a kitten for your teenager, focus on the importance of treating pets kindly. Here are some strategies that can help your child learn how to treat animals appropriately:

Have Your Child Help Care for a Pet

Involve your child in feeding, watering, brushing, and cleaning up after a pet. This can serve as a good reminder that your pet is a living creature who needs to be cared for.

It’s important to supervise your child’s attempts to care for a pet. Don’t assume that your child will remember to feed the dog every day or that he’ll be able to keep the hamster’s cage clean on his own. Allow for increased independence slowly as your child demonstrates the ability to care for a pet consistently.

Set Limits on Rough Play

Just because the cat doesn’t scratch and the dog doesn’t bite, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to allow your child to wrestle with your pets.

Set clear rules about what’s acceptable play and what’s not okay. Encourage your child to play in a way that it’s fun – and safe – for your pet.

Focus on Respectful Behavior

Make sure that the focus isn’t just on ‘what not to do’ – but instead, spend time teaching your child what constitutes respectful behavior.

Show your child how a furry friend likes to be petted or how to use gentle touches that won’t be harmful.

Role Model Appropriate Behavior

If you’re guilty of kicking your dog out of the way, your child will do the same. And even though your pet doesn’t understand the meaning of your unkind words, your child will. Avoid calling your pet “stupid” and don’t threaten to do mean things to a pet who misbehaves. It will send the wrong message to your child.

It’s essential to role model how to treat an animal with respect. Make it clear that caring for a pet isn’t reserved for the times where you feel like it, but instead, it’s something you need to do every day. For example, it can be helpful to point out, “It’s cold outside and I don’t really want to go for a walk. But, Buster needs a walk every single day. Taking him out on the days when I don’t want to is part of being a responsible pet owner.”

Provide Supervision

Unfortunately, the news often reveals horror stories that occur when children aren’t properly supervised with pets.

Sometimes kids torment pets to the point of cruelty. At other times, pets respond defensively in a manner that harms – or even kills – children.

Provide plenty of supervision when your child is around your pet. Recognize that sometimes, even “really good kids” can do harmful things. And it’s not always intentional. A child who tries to shoo the dog away from her snack may accidentally knock the dog over. Or a child who tries to remove the cat from the table may do so more forcefully than she intended.

Follow Through with Consequences

If your child hits, pushes, pulls your pet’s tail, or breaks any other pet-friendly rule, provide an immediate consequence. Place your child in time-out or take away a privilege. Consistent discipline is key to teaching your child how to behave appropriately.

Don’t wait for natural consequences to deter your child’s behavior. Assuming that the cat will scratch if your child gets too rough, or that the dog will let him know if he’s annoyed, isn’t a healthy tactic. It’s not fair to your pet and it could result in serious consequences. Even a normally mild-tempered pets have breaking points and they may become aggressive if they feel tormented.

Sometimes, certain pets aren’t a good match for a child. If your child torments your pet, consider finding a new home for your pet. It’s not fair to the animal to be abused.

Seek Professional Help When Necessary

Cruelty to an animal can be a sign of serious mental health problems. If your child is mean to your pet on purpose, or lacks any type of empathy for your pet, talk to the pediatrician. It’s important to get your child assessed and treated as soon as possible.

Continue Reading