Adding a pet to your family can be beneficial in a number of ways. On the one hand, pets can be a lot of work. On the other, children can learn and grow from interactions with pets.
Before bringing in a pet, be sure your child is ready for the new addition to your home. Talk to your child about what it means to care for another creature. Check out books that are right for your child’s age about having a pet in the home. Observe how your child acts around the pets of family members, be sure they seem comfortable with animals. If possible, let your child help you “pet-sit” for a friend or family member to get a first-hand look at what caring for a pet really means.
Pets help develop responsibility.
Caring for your pet takes discipline, patience, and commitment. Starting with the basics of food and water at regular times, children learn that pets depend completely on their humans. Taking the pet for walks or teaching the pet how to sit, stay or come all take patience and repetition. While children may not be able to do all of this on their own, watching you work with your pet models the behavior you want your child to learn.
Young children can learn about pets too. From teaching a toddler how to be gentle with the small animals or letting your kindergartner fill the food bowl or feed the fish. Elementary school-age children can go with you to walk the dog or even take turns holding the leash. At every step of the process, you can encourage them by giving positive feedback.
Pets can help develop empathy.
In the age of technology, when friends are connected by the internet instead of a backyard, it’s important to teach empathy whenever possible.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy can apply to animals as well as people. And when you develop understanding and caring for a pet, it helps you become more empathetic towards other people in your life.
Pets help develop confidence
When a child develops a positive relationship with his or her pet they learn about trust by talking to and sharing secrets with the pet. When pets respond by appearing to “listen” this aids in developing non-verbal communication skills and self-esteem. Together with the responsibility of caring for the pet, this all helps children feel more confident about themselves and their abilities.
As a parent or caregiver, you are ultimately responsible for the safety and welfare of the pet chosen. Involvement by you including talking about and planning for a pet is key to making pet ownership a positive experience for the whole family. By taking the time and patience to teach your child how to care for your pet, they will learn to be patient and kind to those around them.