Many families choose to get a pet to teach the kids “responsibility.” In the end, the “responsibility” for the pet falls on Mom or Dad, with a bit of resentment on the parents’ part.
Kids need pets for many reasons, not just to teach responsibility. Pets provide huge emotional outlets, improve the health of the family, and might even help your child earn better grades in school. Barring allergies, most kids do better with a well-cared for pet in the house than without.
Yep, I know I said it’s not the only reason, but the responsibility for pet ownership prepares kids for other things in life, like doing what you have to do, even when you don’t like it.
The path to pet ownership often starts with the phrase, “If you pay for all of it, you can have one.” Suddenly, your child offers to do all the chores, and tries to make up more chores that they can be paid to complete. Saving for what you can afford instead of getting it on credit will make a huge difference in your child’s adult life.
Pets also teach us to do things even when we don’t want to. Some days I just don’t feel like doing the dishes or folding the laundry, but then it piles up and I’m kicking my yesterday self. Your child will learn to take care of their pet, even when they don’t feel like it or even are sick.
Pets also teach children to do their best, not “good enough.” Change the litter instead of just scooping the corner your hamster uses as a toilet, and your hamster will spend the next day busy rearranging his little home. Your child will learn joy in watching animals at their happiest.
If your child competes in 4-H, FFA, or other sports with their pet, they learn even more about earning long-term rewards. Initially, your child may *gasp* lose because they didn’t put enough effort or didn’t learn enough about their sport. (I know I did!) They will learn how to be a good sport, how to do their very best, and that coming in second at their very best has rewards as well.
Studies have shown that children raised in homes with dogs might lower risk of asthma and possibly other issues, like allergies.
Pets also help kids exercise. Dogs need daily walks, and to play fetch or chase. Riding horses creates full-body muscle tone. Even livestock requires lifting heavy bags of feed and management that improves health.
When kids have pets, they learn to care for the less able with sympathy and consideration. They learn gentleness, calmness, and deliberate action when handling a scared pet. Children learn to consider the feelings of their pets when making decisions about their care. They learn to take the pet’s individual needs in mind, instead of their view of how the pet should act.
Kids need someone to count on, and kids count on their pets. Even in a chaotic world, they come home and have a routine to care for their pet. Many people (adults included!) find this calming and centering. Pets will listen to the child’s problem with a sympathetic ear, and without telling the child what to do.
Many pets also provide a calming effect simply by watching them do their thing. Studies show that aquariums calm people before stressful events. Watching the fish somehow diverts anxiety. It’s possible that watching other pets, such as gerbils in their cage or kittens playing, can reap similar rewards.
Pets help teach children about bullying. A child that plays too rough or mean with a pet will find the pet has left the game. Explaining, especially to smaller kids, that if they don’t play nice the dog won’t play with them, helps them learn that the kids at school won’t play either.
Pets provide huge benefits to education. Children learn to read aloud by reading to pets. Some programs take children into shelters to read to the pets. The pet doesn’t know the child made a mistake, so there’s no negative reaction. Your child feels less judged and more confident without the negative feedback.
Kids also learn by teaching, and when they try to teach a pet something, they can talk through the problems in their head. The pet can’t confuse them more with questions, and they can get a better grasp of concepts by teaching. Plus, if the cat falls asleep on their lap, they can’t walk away from their homework.
Pets never get bored with listening, so they never tell your child to “stop” or try to talk your child into doing something else. Well, maybe the dog starts thinking about dinner. But the pet never suggests that anything your child learns is dumb or worthless, and gives children a sense of both accomplishment and pride.
Do your pets help your children in other ways?
My son, though allergic to everything, loves helping take care of our aquarium and adores my parents’ dog. I’m hoping that in the future he can learn some of these things through our involvement with pets.