Thunder, Lightning and Mr. Tiddly Winks

Values I Taught My Kids With the Help of Our Pet Turtles

When my dad gifted my 4-year-old son, soon to be 13, with two baby aquatic turtles, we thought they were the perfect first pets for him. I didn’t know a lot about turtles, but like most kids, he lost interest quickly, and their livelihood was shifted to me. After reading disturbing news about turtles carrying salmonella, I was ready to dump them in the nearest pond. He was enamored so for the love of my son I knew what I had to do until he could properly take care of them on his own. After all, he wasn’t in control of his hygiene and could not know how to take care of reptiles that could be carrying harmful bacteria.

Being the overzealous mom that I am, I saw an opportunity to teach responsibility. In hindsight, it was far more than that. I was inspiring values through example.

Here are some of the values I taught without even realizing it:

Diligence and Fearlessness - Google became my friend. I learned everything I could to keep them alive and our family safe.

Patience - I rolled up my sleeves and tolerated the daunting job until I could pass it off.

Thirst for Knowledge - The turtles, who we affectionately referred to as Lightning and Thunder, occupied their small tank for a while, but as they grew, we realized they needed an upgrade. Turtles typically grow to be about 8 to 12 inches long and require an adequate habitat as well as a good diet to reach their size potential.

Responsibility - In addition to being fed three to four times a week, turtles need sunlight or UV lights to produce the vitamins they need to survive and an air pump to help them breathe.

Resilience - Although turtles are relatively small, quiet and undemanding, fostering a turtle is a long-term commitment. They can have a lifespan of up to 40 years if cared for properly so it’s not a job for the weak.

Empathy - Turtles require specialized treatment: special food, habitat, and care. One must be mindful of the growing needs of the pet turtle.

Appreciation and Loyalty - A few years ago, we adopted a third turtle, Mr. Tiddly Winks, from a friend who could no longer care for it. I realize I might be nurturing turtles into my senior years once my boys, 12 and 4, head off to college, and I’m actually fine with that. These turtles have given us more than we could ever give them. They’re family now!

Having family pets is an important part of childhood that offers countless benefits from teaching responsibility to making lifelong memories. As the celebrated poem by New York Times bestselling author Dorothy Law Nolte suggests, “kids learn what they live.” What you do is more important than what you say. When choosing a pet, be intentional because your children are watching.  

Kristen Wright Matthews is a wife and mother of two sons, C.J., 12, and Kollin, 4. For over seven years, The Matthews’ family has facilitated a charitable program called Blankies 4 My Buddies, created when C.J. was 5-years-old to help him cope with the family’s pregnancy loss of their daughter. Through special projects and events, led by C.J., the family provides comfort to kids dealing with difficult situations.     

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