Talking to Kids About Their Pets

Posted by Positive Impressions on Jul 17th 2019

No matter how much you love children, they can be a challenge to deal with: their lack of knowledge and emotional maturity make pet care difficult and health issues scary. Using these strategies will make them easier to work with, whether you’re talking to them directly about their pet, giving pet care advice to parents or addressing a school group.

Talking to Kids at Your Clinic

No one likes taking their pet in for health care, and kids often have a harder time because they don’t understand as much about what’s going on as their parents. Many of the strategies used for pediatric care can be adapted to improve clinic interactions:

- Don’t underestimate the value of play. A vet-themed play area and pet-themed items like coloring books and stickers gives children a way to work through their feelings.
- Keep it simple. Even adults have trouble with common medical terms like “dorsal” and “ventral,” and kids have even less medical knowledge. Visual aids are a great way to get your point across.
- Be patient. Often, you’ll find the need to explain everything twice: once for the adult, and once for the child.
- Give a quick explanation if you need the parent and child to go outside the exam room. If the child doesn’t know why they’re leaving, they’re more inclined to worry.

Encouraging Involvement in Pet Care

Raising a pet can be an important and rewarding experience for children if it’s handled well. When parents have problems, they’ll turn to you and your staff for advice. The American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychology suggests these general guidelines for pet care:

- Children under 5 have poor impulse control, and should only be with a pet while under parental supervision.

- Young children may be able to care for low maintenance pets like fish on their own, but anyone younger than 12 will have trouble caring for large animals like cats and dogs. Adults should always supervise pet care no matter how old their child is.

- If the child isn’t doing their duties, parents need to take up the slack. Continued negligence is a sign that the child has lost interest in their pet. At this point, it may be best to find a new home for the animal.

Pet care tasks can gradually be added to the child’s routine as they grow older and more mature.

Petting: This is one of the earliest steps children need to learn. Knowing where, how and when to touch an animal helps the child be gentle when handling pets.

Assisting parents: Kids can do small tasks to help with pet care with parental help, like feeding treats to their pet or distracting a dog while attaching a leash.

Food and water: Frequent, simple tasks are easier for kids to handle than more complex, less frequent tasks. Feeding and watering are a perfect fit because these tasks require doing the same thing at the same time of day. Keep it simple by setting aside a measuring cup and writing simple instructions on the food container.

Grooming: Younger kids can lightly brush the animal, but combing and washing should be left for their teenage years.

Exercise: Once they’re old enough to go out on their own and strong enough to handle the leash, tweens and teens can walk pets.

Talking to Groups of Kids

At some point, you or a member of your staff will be invited to speak to a school group. Dealing with several children requires some different strategies, but it’s not hard to make it a rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Keep it short: Even the most pet-obsessed fourth grader is going to have trouble following you after a while. When working with younger kids, try to keep presentations under a half hour.

Emphasize interaction: Giving your audience something to do makes the experience more fun and memorable. This can range from coloring and games to one-on-one experience with an animal.

Stay on task: Young children tend to ramble when speaking, which can make it difficult to keep the rest of the group engaged. Save the questions for a short Q & A at the end.

Talking About Pet Loss

Euthanasia is hard to talk about, but these strategies will help, whether you’re giving the bad news directly, or giving advice to parents.

Be direct: Using phrases like “went to a better place” can be confusing for young kids.

Keep it short: If the child is getting anxious, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. They’re just getting uncomfortable. Over time, they’ll be able to talk more about it.

Let them say goodbye: Children will have a hard time handling the procedure, but it’s still a good idea to give them a few moments with their pet before it passes away.

We Help You Make Visits Easier and More Fun for Kids

Positive Impressions, LLC specializes in products that help you build your relationship with your clients and their families. Along with veterinary reminder cards and memorial products, we also offer kid-friendly products like animal stickers and pet-themed coloring books. Check out our latest specials at our website.

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