Pets Are Good for Children

{pictured above left to right: Sophie, Banjo, & Millie}

I found a great article in the Fall 2011 issue of “Healthy Pet,” which we receive through our vet’s office.  The name of the article is “Kids and Pets: Growing Together” by Lynette A. Hart, Ph.D.

Many times as I watch my boys interact with our pets, I’ve been thankful that we are in a position to own pets.  That is, nobody is allergic to the animals, and we have time to care for them properly.  We have two dogs, one cat, and six little fish.

The article begins by stating that many parents think giving a child a pet is a great way to teach them responsibility, but unfortunately, most children are not mature enough to care for a pet’s daily needs.  My husband learned this lesson when he bought that fish aquarium for our then three-year-old.  Although he didn’t expect our son to take care of the aquarium, he thought he would be more interested in watching the process.

Interestingly, I have observed how our son started out by being fascinating with the aquarium, later losing interest, and yet later finding a renewed interest.  Sometimes he does “help” his daddy clean the aquarium, and ever since we added an algae eater to the mix, he and his little brother like to sit and watch the aquarium for a few minutes in the mornings.

I never expected my son to be responsible for the aquarium or sustain an interest, but over time the aquarium has given him much more knowledge about fish and the work that goes into keeping a tank.  There are probably other lessons in there that I’m not aware of either.

The article also says that pets can give a child a sense of self.  Since most dogs and cats love their owners unconditionally and offer constant companionship, this “can be restorative” and helps kids “build self-esteem.”

I don’t know about my kids, but I know that the companionship of my little Siamese cat, Sophie, is very restorative.  It’s relaxing at night when she curls up next to me, purring like a little motor is inside of her.

It’s probably also relaxing for her to be with me after a day of being pounced on and chased by two little boys.  God bless her for being so patient.  I admit there have been times when I was in a pickle, needing a moment for myself, and I would say, “Look, boys! There’s Sophie!”  She is great at distracting them for me.

Another benefit of having pets, according to the article, is that kids learn how their behavior affects others.  This is true.  As I mentioned, Sophie is very patient, but she will not tolerate actions that could possibly hurt her, and I don’t blame her for that.  When she hisses at the boys, I tell them they need to be more mindful and gentle.

“Gentle” is one of the first words my children learned, thanks to Sophie.  This has come in handy many times outside the home too: at petting zoos, with friend’s pets, or other people’s toys.  (I wonder why it doesn’t work when I tell my eldest to be “gentle” with his younger brother?)

When my boys begin to chase and torture the dogs, they see firsthand how the dogs run and hide.  I’m not sure that has taught them anything, though.  They still like to chase and torture the dogs.

But I’m glad we have the dogs because my boys are not afraid of other people’s dogs.  We have had two sets of friends whose children quake with fear at our neighbor’s sweet, lumbering lab that wanders into our yard from time to time.  I’ve also noticed that my boys don’t fear animals in petting zoos either.  Though I teach them to be cautious, of course, I’m glad they feel comfortable with animals.

The article also says that losing a pet is often a child’s first experience with death, and dealing with it in a respectful way can be a valuable lesson for a child.  Also, showing a child how a pet needs healthy food, grooming and exercise can teach them about healthy habits for themselves as well.

Finally, helping to train a dog can give a child leadership skills.  This is a great idea. I have always wanted to get a German Shepherd, but I want to wait until my boys are old enough to participate in the obedience classes.  It would be a great experience for a child to help care, train and love a dog from a puppy into adulthood.  But all in due time…

If only there were obedience classes for young children.

This column was originally printed in the September 21, 2001 edition of the Barrow Journal.  You can view on the online version by clicking here.

I would love to hear your thoughts. I try my best to respond to every comment, but please be patient with me.

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