The majority of us had pets at home when we were growing up, but do you know why our furry (or in some cases, scaly) friends are such a mainstay of the family home? It’s doubtful our parents over-analysed the benefits of animals for children but, thanks to research, we can now clearly see that a house with a pet under its roof is definitely a happier, healthier and possibly brighter one than a house without.
Why pets are good for children
We know having a pet can be nice, but it’s much more than just that. There are many benefits in teaching a child the skill of caring for, and interacting with, animals. It’s widely recognised that close relationships with a family pets teaches a child to be more responsible, compassionate and caring.
Furthermore, owning a pet provides children with significant educational and therapeutic benefits. Those regularly interacting with animals are also seen to have higher levels of self-esteem, better social skills and much greater empathy – cries of “why haven’t we got a pet sooner?” fill the room.
On a very serious note, for those parents with children who have emotional, learning, social or behavioural issues, or special needs, pet ownership can sometimes be nothing short of a miracle. Shyness can be overcome, problems are more easily vocalised and friendships can be more effectively formed in the context of animal care and interaction – and these are just a few benefits of animals for children. Children who are withdrawn often become more confident and engaged and, on the flip-side, those who display hyperactivity can become more focused, happy and absorbed in day-to-day life.
Owning a pet, especially a dog or cat, can also provide a wonderful alternative to the more sedentary favoured pastimes of computer gaming and watching TV. It will encourage a child to walk more or even get up and play more. Some studies have even shown that children in a household that has a dog have more traditional values, greater respect for their parents and higher academic achievement – what’s not to love?
How can your child get involved?
Before you go to buy your pet, involve your child in the research process – this can help them feel involved and let them know what level of care your chosen animal is likely to need. Not all animals are suitable pets for little ones though – try to avoid anything too small or too exotic.
Children caring for pets at home can take more responsibility for the welfare of their little companions from morning to night. As soon as the animal is welcomed into your home, let them help with feeding, cleaning and watering and all should be plain sailing as you watch the benefits of animals for children unfold.
Away from home…
If caring for a pet at home is not for you then there are many ways in which you can still expose your child to animal care. Very young children will relish the thought of making their own ‘pretend pet’ which they can look after. For slightly older children, look out for places that offer interaction with animals such as local farms, petting zoos and even stables – some will offer regular slots to come along and help to care for the animals.
If you’re lucky enough, you may even have a nursery setting near you like Toad Hall which has pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs and truly acknowledges the benefits of animal care among children. In addition, by linking with organisations such as Animal Encounters, Toad Hall has managed to give its pupils the opportunity to learn about lots of different creatures that would make good pets – opening their eyes to where the animals came from, what they eat and where they like to live.
So, whether you choose to invite a new pet into your house or help your child learn about them away from home – the benefits of animals for children are truly plain to see.