If children are older and reasonably responsible, they can (and should) take on a role in the care of your family’s guinea pig. With the words: Okay, we’ll get a guinea pig – but you will have to take care of it, many parents are tempted to completely abdicate their pig care responsibilities and assign them all to the child. This is almost never a good idea. While caring for any living creature is a great learning opportunity (and the parent may even tell the child that they are totally in charge of the animal’s health, safety and welfare); ultimately, the final accountability should always remain with the responsible adult.
While full responsibility for your pig’s welfare should never be given to a child, it is actually a good learning experience to assign specific tasks to the children in the family. If the tasks are a life-critical – such as those involving food, water or supplements – the responsible parent must monitor the situation to make sure these duties are not being neglected. Your pigs’ lives depend on it! The parent should give occasional praise and positive reinforcements when the job is well done and they should give reminders and negative consequences when the job is neglected, forgotten or done poorly. Owning a pet is an excellent learning opportunity for your children – but it should never come at the expense of your pets’ health, safety or well-being.
If the task is less life-critical – such as cage-cleaning or giving the guinea pig daily attention and exercise – then monitoring does not need to be as diligent. However, this does not mean that you can simply delegate the task and walk away. Remember that ultimately the responsibility for your pigs’ safety and happiness falls on you – the parent. Also remember that the monitoring of tasks is for two very different and important reasons: 1) to insure the care, safety and comfort of your pet(s) and 2) to teach your kids to be responsible, caring and respectful pet-owners. So even if the task is not critical to your pigs’ health or safety, it is still an important part of your children’s transformation into responsible adults and community members.
It goes without saying that tasks assigned to children should be age-appropriate. That is, life-critical tasks should be assigned to older and more responsible children. Less critical tasks can be assigned to younger and less capable children. In either case, stretch your child by letting them do everything that they are capable of and by periodically adding new and harder tasks, but also be sure to give parental aid, coaching and guidance with any portions of the job that your child is not able to perform correctly.
It is a great learning experience for kids to be involved in the raising of a pet. However, all tasks assigned should be based upon your children’s age and ability. And at no point should you as a parent abdicate your responsibility in the situation. Ultimately, the responsibility for your guinea pigs’ health, safety and welfare rests on your shoulders.