Turning a family pet into a family job

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Along with the happiness and fun pets bring to our lives comes the responsibility of providing a lifetime of care and well-being. Caring for a family pet should be a family job!

Helping with the routine care of a family pet can enable children to become self-reliant and learn about responsibility. One way to make pet care an educational and fun family project is to set up a token economy. This can also help children learn to count, add, subtract, and the basics of making a budget.

The first step is to establish the minimum care needs of the pet. Children can help identify these basic needs, which include food and fresh water. Create a second list of the extra tasks that can be done to assist in the care of the pet (e.g., brushing, bathing, training, exercise, "poop patrol" and litter box or cage cleaning).

Once you have determined the tasks required for the pet's care, you can set up your token economy. First, select some type of token such as marbles or stickers. Children will earn tokens by participating in the pet's care. Parents and children should work together to assign a value to each task. Token values may be determined by the difficulty of the task or the time it takes to complete it. Playing with your pet for exercise may be worth one token, but bathing the pet might be worth three.

Providing for basic needs (those tasks on the first list you created) is a responsibility that comes with owning a pet. This responsibility is the price for all the pleasure that the pet provides. Children should not earn tokens for providing basic care, only for tasks on the second list that go above and beyond basic care. To help foster a sense of responsibility, consider implementing a "fine" if a child forgets to do a task on the first list.

A weekly chart showing everyone's jobs can be hung on the refrigerator. This chart can be used to track completed jobs, as well as tokens earned or lost. On a specified day, let children use their tokens to "buy" privileges. An extended bedtime or an extra TV show could be great motivators!

Owning a pet is a joy, but it is also hard work. Children can derive self-worth and confidence from successfully caring for their pet, while learning about the responsibility involved in pet ownership. This benefits the entire family, including the pet!