When I finally made it down to the dinner table at 6:30 last night, the rest of my family was already eating. My belly was growling and I felt totally gross – I had just spent the last hour-and-a-half cleaning the turtle’s aquarium, which was long overdue, and trying to keep an angry turtle from biting me while I scrubbed the algae off its shell. It had been a long, disgusting, stinky job.
When my son first got his pet turtle about a year ago, he was eager to help me clean the tank, play with the turtle, feed the turtle…all those things a pet owner needs to do. He read books on Mississippi map turtles, carefully inspected his turtle for signs of ill health before we bought it, and was so, so excited to have a pet of his own.
But, you know…the novelty wore off. As it does.
Zip does a great job with feeding Mikey and turning his tank lights on and off each day, but other than that, the poor turtle is on his own. I’m not sure the turtle really minds, but it does deserve a healthy place to live and to avoid developing shell rot. And a little socialization certainly wouldn’t hurt.
So after a serious chat at dinner about why keeping the turtle clean is important (“I know all this, Mommy!”) and confirming that my kiddo does in fact still want a pet turtle, I put together a contract. The Pet Contract.
In hindsight, we should have done this before getting the turtle, but better late than never! A contract between parent and child might feel overly formal, but contracts really are a great tool for laying out clear expectations any time kids take on a new responsibility – a cell phone, a driver’s license, a new job…a pet! It ensures everyone is on the same page, understands expectations, and knows what is at stake.
Zip is nine years old, so I don’t expect him to do everything when it comes to caring for his pet, but there are definitely some tasks he can help with – like cleaning the turtle’s shell and the plants in the tank. There are things his dad and I need to handle, like cleaning the filter and changing the water, and we’re responsible for ensuring Zip helps…not letting him play baseball outside while we’re inside working, just because it’s easier to do it alone than teach him.
Zip read the contract out loud and after we all signed it, to make it O-FFICIAL, I hung it on the back of his bedroom door to serve as a visual reminder. To help him (and me!), I also put together a schedule of our weekly responsibilities – essentially, a turtle chore chart to keep us on track.
As with any big responsibility, kids need to know what is expected of them and what will happen if they do or don’t hold up their end of the deal. I’m optimistic that Zip will step up to the plate to do his part. If he doesn’t….anyone want a pet turtle? I hear it’s a great way to teach your kids responsibility!