Are Kids Who Grow Up With Pets Healthier?
Kids benefit from growing up with pets in various ways: they learn life skills, such as responsibility and commitment, and get unconditional love and companionship in return. Pet ownership is also known as a stress-buster and, at times, it may also act as an allergy fighter.
Kids and pets go together like peanut butter and jelly (and sometimes can be just as messy). With proper supervision and training, however, the animal/child relationship can go well beyond simple safe and loving companionship: it can teach your child valuable life lessons. Here are 10 top reasons why kids should grow up with pets.
1. Pets Teach Kids Responsibility
From cleaning cages and litter boxes to daily walks, fresh water and food, there is a lot to do when it comes to keeping your pet healthy and happy. Even very young children can participate successfully in helping with pet-related chores: a toddler can scoop dry kibble into the cat dish and carry a near-empty water bowl to the sink.
Older kids can help by regularly exercising the dog and brushing his coat. Younger cats need to be especially played with, not just for fun, but as a form of exercise for indoor-only cats. If it is a chore that everyone likes doing (like feeding the fish), use a calendar to show whose turn it is and if the job has been done.
2. Pets Teach Kids Empathy
Animals are people too, in a way. They feel pain and can sometimes have trouble sharing (especially when it comes to food and toys). If your child complains about walking the dog after school, remind them that the animal is alone much of the day and gets lonely. Just as you would never consider letting your pet go without food and water, daily doses of love, exercise and attention are crucial to his wellbeing.
3. Pets May Fight Allergies
If your child is brought up with animals in the house, his chance of developing animal-related allergies are reduced. Long-term exposure to dander is thought to build immunity, giving your kids a fighting chance to grow up allergy free. This not only gives you and your family the option of having pets in the future, but it also allows your children to visit friends whose families also have pets.
4. Pets Provide Built-in Companionship
Any pet – fish, hamster, rabbit, bird, cat or dog – is a built-in companion for every member of the household. Children can really benefit from this constant friend, as he can be a source of comfort in times of illness, as well as a boredom-buster on rainy days. If your child is home sick from school, tell him to read a favorite story to his cat or fish; or to teach him a new language; or to show him a new doll.
5. Pets are Highly Entertaining
Have you ever watched a hamster drink from his water bottle, his funny little mouth moving busily, his tiny paws wrapped around the water spout? Does your cat have ‘crazies’ when he rushes wildly, scrabbling along wood or tile floors, from one corner of the house to another, for no apparent reason? Do you love to watch your dog circle three times – exactly – before he collapses into a satisfied heap, with a long, happy sigh, onto his doggie bed? What about watching him dream while he sleeps, his paws moving, his lips softly flapping with each breath? Forget big-screen entertainment; pets are fun to watch in almost every aspect of their lives.
6. Having a Pet Spurs Creativity
Next time the dog is dreaming, ask your child what he thinks the dream is about. When your cat is pretending to be a statue in the window, offer your child a sketch pad and pencil. Let your child take pictures of your pet and post them online to share with family members and friends.
7. Pets Encourage Discussion
What do fish think about all day? Do dogs remember their dreams? What was our cat’s life like before we adopted him from the shelter? All these questions are jumping-off points for discussions with your child. You may be surprised at how much you learn about your child’s thought processes and abilities!
8. Pets Promote Learning
When your child asks why the cat had to have an operation to ‘get fixed’, you can choose to explain about the importance of spaying and neutering pets. This may in turn lead to questions about over-population, responsible pet ownership and so on. Keep it honest, simple and age appropriate.
If you take your animals in for a yearly check-up, it is a good idea to let the kids come along -especially if you have a child who is afraid of going to doctors or dentists. The kids get to see a veterinarian in action, and hopefully will not be shy about asking him questions.
9. Pets Help Kids Form Friendships
When there is a new kid at school (or your child is the new one), an invitation to ‘come see my pet’ is easy to offer and usually accepted. Letting the new friend walk the dog with your child is about as long as it takes for a friendship to form. Similarly, if you have a friendly cat or rabbit the kids can cuddle together, it will likely not be long before the children are playing like lifelong mates.
10. Pets Teach Kids about Commitment
Poop patrol is never anyone’s idea of a good time. Getting scratched or nipped is not much fun either. Walking the dog when it is wet and cold is another time when it might be easier to have a pet rock than a living, breathing animal. That is commitment, though, and your kids learn life lessons about what it means to be a family member and honoring long-term promises in how the family pet is treated. Quality of daily care given to the animal is not the only aspect children see, of course; they are also impacted by how separation or end-of-life decisions are made.
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