Perhaps you’ve begun to regularly hear a cry from your children that most parents will hear at some point: “Can we please have a pet?”
From your child’s point of view, the appeal is obvious: a fun and friendly, cute and cuddly playmate. However, as the responsible adult, you understand the time, effort and money required to properly take care of a pet.
Bringing a pet into your home is a serious decision to make that entails plenty of thought and planning. While weighing up whether the happiness a pet can bring your family is going to be worth the effort involved, think about the many life lessons that pet ownership will also offer your child.
8 Important Lessons
The number one lesson your child can learn is responsibility. They will very quickly realize that their pet has needs that they must regularly take care of; food and water, cleaning, and exercise are all things that need to be taken care of daily. Children will need to learn pet grooming skills, and how to use dog grooming products, too.
Children, particularly young children, will need plenty of assistance, but even the youngest children can begin to learn how to look after another living creature. This is, of course, an essential life skill to learn for the journey into adulthood when they begin to increasingly take care of themselves and others around them.
Alongside the sense of responsibility they gain, they also need to foster their organizational and timekeeping skills to ensure their pet’s needs are met. Seeing that sometimes their own needs have to wait if a pet needs attention is more urgent. Sacrificing some leisure time because their dog needs exercise, or because a trip to the local pet supply store is needed, are examples of where children must learn to put their responsibility for others first.
2. Trust in others
Pets make brilliant friends for children. A well-trained animal will respond positively to affection, can be loyal and kind, and can be a great sounding board. Absolutely all children can benefit in this way, but particularly those who are struggling with friendships or loneliness.
It is for this reason that an increasing amount of schools and children’s hospitals are using pets as therapy, particularly to improve mental health. Although positive results are unanimous, it is not yet completely clear why it works, but plausible theories include the idea that pets provide entirely non-judgmental support, and that they also fulfill our innate need to connect with other living creatures.
By creating a bond with their pet, a child can begin to take first steps in building trust in other human relationships, too.
Empathy is an essential skill but one that children may struggle to learn. When a pet lives alongside them, however, there are many more learning opportunities put before them. Putting the physical needs of their animal first, and being responsible for its happiness, fosters a child’s kindness and builds a sense of compassion.
Children will quickly learn from their pet that if they treat it respectfully and kindly, with gentle voices and touch, that it will respond to them more positively. This requires parental guidance at the beginning, but usually becomes innate quite quickly.
Most pets need some form of training, so children have a chance to work on their patience levels as a pet adapts to its new home and learns to listen to and follow commands.
The sense of pride children get from pet ownership can hugely contribute to self-worth. Being responsible for a living creature feels very grown up to a child, as well as the fact that pets often attract admiration from others and are also a good talking point, which helps your child’s social skills.
The unconditional love that pets show also can make a substantial difference to a child’s self-esteem.
7. The benefits of being physically active
Most parents now worry about screen time and the activity levels of their children, but pets are a brilliant way to entice children away from the sofa. Dogs obviously need lots of exercise outside of the home, which is important for human health, too, but smaller pets like cats need to be played as well. The enjoyment children get from this kind of physical play can encourage them to continue to adopt positive exercise habits as they grow.
8. How to cope with bereavement
Whilst this is undoubtedly the least enjoyable aspect of pet ownership, the demise of a loved pet does come with a valuable life lesson despite the pain a child will certainly face.
Bereavement is something we must all face at some point, but children who have lost a pet may develop better coping skills as a result. They also have an increased awareness of the cycle of life.
The decision to bring a pet into your home is undoubtedly very personal, but with the right preparations, pet ownership can undoubtedly enhance your child’s life.
Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner of Pet’s Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a BSc in Government from the London School of Economics. She is always on the lookout for new opportunities to develop and grow the pet and equestrian retail and wholesale market in the UAE and beyond, and is proud to be at the helm of the first and the largest pet care provider in the market representing world-class brands including Origen, Applaws, Hunter, Savic, Flamingo, Ruffwear and Rogz.