Everyone knows kids love animals. They grow up reading books about animals, seeing movies about talking animals, and collecting a treasure trove of stuffed animals.
All you have to do is look in my kids’ rooms to know that animals rock. Their rooms are a menagerie full of stuffed animals, books about animals, and cute photos of all sorts of creatures from pigs to puppies…and my kids are teenagers!
But they’ve grown up with a love for all things furry, scaled and sometimes smelly.
It’s true that no one has to tell me that having a pet helps kids grow up to be empathetic, healthy and happy, but not everyone has experienced this for themselves.
So if you are seriously considering adding a pet to your family but your just not sure you’re ready to take the plunge, I want to tell you why you should.
Pets can help kids…
…to be responsible
While you shouldn’t think that your kids would be responsible for the daily care of your pet (that’s your job), having a pet will teach them how to care for something other than themselves. It will teach them about responsibility because they can certainly help you take care of your pet, and they’ll see you taking care of it.
But beyond teaching responsibility which your child will have lots of opportunities to learn along the way, it teaches a child to nurture. That’s a skill that’s learned. It doesn’t just happen.
In many societies, children learn to nurture by caring for their younger siblings but that’s not usually the case in the United States. In fact, you might find yourself in some serious trouble if your 8 year old is responsible for taking care of your 3 year old while you’re at work.
The thing about caring for a pet is that it gives both boys and girls an opportunity to learn to nurture. As they get older, boys don’t always feel as comfortable playing house, playing with dolls or even babysitting as girls do, but nurturing a pet is acceptable to them.
…to be empathetic
Many studies show that kids who live with pets score higher on measurements of empathy than kids without pets. Pets teach kids that others have feelings and reactions to their behavior.
Pets get sick. They even die. And that’s sad for the pet and for your child who’ll be learning a lesson. Pets and people feel sad and sometimes we just have to let them be sad. And sometimes all we can do is be their friends when that happens…and have empathy.
…to feel less stress and anxiety
There’s nothing like a pet to cuddle or stroke when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Numerous studies have shown that pets are so great at relieving stress that having one can even lower blood pressure.
Mary Renck Jalongo, Ph.D., and author of The World of Children and Their Companion Animals, says, “Kids who get support from their animal companions are rated by their parents as less anxious and withdrawn.”
…to feel less lonely and better about themselves
When I was a kid, I went through some difficult times with my friends as most kids do at some point. Kids can be mean. But not a pet. When I was going through a rough patch with my friends and felt alone, the first thing I’d do after school is lay with my dog for a while.
She loved me no matter what. Her kisses and nuzzles were all I needed to feel at least a little less lonely. And if she loved me, heck there must be something wrong with my friends because my dog thinks I’m terrific.
And if your child struggles with friendships, a pet can be a conversation starter and a shared interest with other kids.
…to be healthy
Numerous studies have shown that a child growing up with a pet has a reduced risk of allergies and asthma, even if your family is allergy prone.
They get your kids outside and away from electronics. When my kids have been glued to a screen for too long, it’s time to go out and throw the ball with the dog. Getting some fresh air and some exercise is good for everyone.
Maybe your pet of choice isn’t a dog, but other animals can get your kids outside too. Horses, goats, chickens all require your kids to get outside in order to enjoy their company.
…to be a better reader and better in science (believe it or not)
Kids who struggle with reading are more likely to want to read to their dog or cat, maybe even their fish or hamster, than to read out loud to their parents.
In fact, there are a number of reading programs in libraries and schools around the country where kids can read to a therapy dog. So if you decide not to get a pet, you may want to give one of these programs a try if your child could use a book buddy.
Interestingly, studies have shown that kids with pets have a better understanding of biology than their pet-less peers. In one study, kindergarteners that care for goldfish were better able to respond to the question, “Does a goldfish have a heart?” These kids also had a better understanding of biological processes. For example, baby frogs grow to be bigger frogs.
…to learn new things
When kids have a pet, they may take a real interest in that specific type of pet or a specific breed of their pet. This is an opportunity for children to read about and learn something new. They may even want to learn to train their dog and go to obedience classes with you.
Pet ownership could foster an interest in veterinary science. Visiting the vet with you and your pet could be inspiring and informative for your child. They can learn about proper pet care and pet health.
These kinds of experiences, and this kind of knowledge, builds confidence in kids.
…to bond with their families
When the every day pace of life gets wearing, it’s time to take a break. That’s when we need to take a step back and be together with our family. We need to bond. Pet ownership is full of great bonding moments.
Some of my most wonderful memories with my children revolve around our dogs…the times we all just laid on the lawn with the dogs, looking up at the clouds.
Or throwing the ball around with the dogs. We laughed at their antics. One would steal the ball from the other with no interest or plan to return it. The other would bark at us as if to say, “Help, he’s being mean to me!”
During these great family moments, there was no agenda, no fighting, no expectations. Just laughs and smiles. Pets force you to have those moments…those moments that would just get away from us if we didn’t slow down.
Pet ownership is not for everyone for a lot of reasons. So if you aren’t convinced these are good reasons to take the plunge, there are many other ways you can expose your kids to animals–ways you can give them at least some of the benefits of pet ownership.
You can find volunteer opportunities at animal shelters. Maybe you have a friend or family member your children can pet sit for. You can brighten your children’s lives by including an animal in it, even if you don’t own one. You just need to be a little creative.
Are you on the fence about getting a pet? Was this helpful to you? Let us know in the comment section above.