Parents, did you know you have an amazing opportunity when your kids want a pet? When they approach you with pitiful eyes, pleading hands, and promises to do everything the darling creature requires, you can give them more than they’re bargaining for.
You probably already know pets are good for kids. Whatever the pet – lizard, hamster, dog, farm animal – kids learn responsibility. Of course, you also know learning is a process. No matter how much they insist they’ll take complete responsibility for the critter, they’ll neglect to sometimes. Your reminders are part of the process.
That’s the part of pet ownership you anticipate. But there are two more extremely important life skills you can instill in them utilizing their desire for a pet. Before I tell you what they are, let me show you through my experience with kids who wanted a hamster.
When my kids were young (about 6, 8, 10), they came to me and shared the utmost desire of their little hearts was to have a hamster. I told them I’d think about it for a day. And think I did.
I’d been frustrated with my kid’s addiction to television. This was in the early 90’s before we owned a personal computer. I decided I would use their request for a hamster to achieve my own desire. So the next day, I came back to the kids with my own proposal.
I told them they could each have their own hamster on the following conditions:
- They had to give up watching their television programs for a year. Yes, a whole year.
- They would not get their hamsters until the year was completed.
- They could watch whatever I watched on television with me. (I watched the evening news and PBS.)
- They could not give me an immediate answer but had to evaluate my proposal overnight.
- They could not change their minds mid-stream.
I didn’t say no, but the terms were tough. There was a very good chance they’d take a pass on my offer. But they didn’t. The next day they told me they were in.
And so our year began. I’ll tell you what, you never saw kids come running to watch Dan Rather deliver the nightly news like my kids did! They were desperate. But they were also up on current events. And at the end of a year, we welcomed Beans, Hushpuppy, and Catfish to our home.
The Big Life Skills Learned
The kids learned to be responsible for their hamsters. I never cleaned a cage, though I did change a water bottle and feed them on rare occasion. I also participated in search and rescue missions when one got loose.
But more than learning responsibility on the back end of the project, my kids learned to accept delayed gratification on the front end.
Kids need to learn important things are worth waiting for. They need opportunities to practice patience. At some point, your children will be teenagers who want to have grown-up things and do grown-up things. How can you expect them to wait if they’ve never experienced waiting in a truly meaningful way?At some point, your children will be teenagers who want to have grown-up things and do grown-up things. Click To Tweet
The second life skill my kids learned before they got their pets was to keep a commitment. Were there times when they asked to get out of it? Yes. But because I’d stipulated from the beginning I would not cave to that, they knew before the complaint was out of their mouths, what my response would be. They made me a promise and I expected them to be people of integrity who keep their promise even if it’s hard. Someday they would marry someone who’d appreciate they’d learned that.
Did this experiment of mine produce perfectly self-controlled and honorable adults? Nope. The world has yet to see that person aside from Jesus. But you have an opportunity when the kids want a pet, to teach them so much more than surface responsibility. It’s a big opportunity to shape their character as adults. Seize that opportunity.