The Perks of Pet Ownership

Girl with Cat_web.jpgFamilies with pets already know how much fun and enjoyment they bring to the household. But what some parents may not realize is that companion animals can actually strengthen families, as well as provide developmental and psychological benefits for children.

According to The Royal Children's Hospital, studies have shown that children who have pets develop a higher self-esteem, have improved social skills and are more physically active.

Caring for an animal can help children learn responsibility, empathy, compassion and trust. And families benefit from pet ownership by sharing in fun activities together. Doing so provides a creative outlet for parents and children to interact with one another and engage in conversation.

Another perk of pet ownership? Stress reduction. In one survey that asked kids who they would go to with a problem, pets were regularly mentioned. It indicates the tendency of animal interactions to reduce negative emotions.

Animals are particularly influential when it comes to the growth of Emotional Intelligence. This ability to use emotions effectively and productively has been strongly linked to early academic success. Data also indicates that children derive cognitive benefits from playing with, talking and even reading to animals.

Lena Pope suggests the following activities for caregivers looking to bond with their children through pets:

  • Visit a dog park. Kids benefit from the time spent in nature enjoying outdoor recreation. Since dogs are typically allowed to run off-leash at dog parks, it’s an opportunity for kids to get physically active playing chase with their pet.

  • Organize a neighborhood pet parade. Families can invite neighbors to bring their favorite furry, finned and feathered friends for a celebratory walk around the block. Kids will have an opportunity to practice social skills by sharing with neighbors about their critter.

  • Incorporate your pet into story time. Children who read with pets are more relaxed. Parents can have the family pet join their child for daily reading time at home. Or, inquire at their school about scheduling classroom story-time accompanied by a favorite animal.

  • Collect donations for animals in need. Local shelters and animal welfare groups often need donations of food and other supplies for pets awaiting adoption. Hosting a drive to collect needed items allows kids to develop valuable traits such as empathy. It also teaches them problem solving, and creates an opportunity for children to gain a sense of accomplishment or achievement.

Based on the many benefits of pet ownership, it can be tempting for families to add a companion animal. Lena Pope encourages parents to consider some important factors, such as the type of animal that is developmentally appropriate for children in the household.

For example, toddlers (under the age of 3) are spontaneous and want to explore. Pets should be considered carefully at this age as the child may be at risk of injury if they tug at the fur and ears of a pet, or put their hands into its water dish. Very young children may also lack impulse control needed for being left unattended around animals.

And kids under the age of 10 are still developing the skills to be solely responsible for the care of a large animal, a cat or a dog. Some additional considerations for age appropriate pets include:

Preschool Age: 4 to 5 years old

At this age, children are learning how to follow simple instructions. They love to help and are developing empathy. Just like preschoolers, guinea pigs are highly social. Since they like being held and rarely bite, they may be a good fit for children in this age range.

Elementary School Age: 5 to 10 years old

Pets such as gerbils, hamsters and fish are an opportunity to incorporate education into the pet ownership experience. Children can measure food to feed the pet. Cleaning cages and filling water bowls encourages responsibility.

Middle School Age: 10 to 13 years old

Youth at this age are able to handle greater responsibility, and can even help with training a pet. Feeding a pet, cleaning a litter box and walking a dog can reliably be done by a middle school student. Adding a dog or cat to the family is age appropriate at this point.

Pets can be a great tool to help parents raise happy, healthy, successful kids. Want more tips and ideas for helping children develop emotionally and cognitively? Be sure to follow Lena Pope on Facebook.