In 2016, an estimated 62 per cent of Australians owned a pet. Of that, 72 per cent of pet owners lived in a home with children. Why so many? Well, it turns out that owning a pet can do a lot of good for your kids, beyond simply giving them a friend to play with.
Owning a pet is fun. There’s no doubting that. They also give us love and companionship. But there are loads more reasons why pets are important for our youngest family members.
Empathy doesn’t really come naturally to most kids. Science says that we’re all born with a basic sense of empathy, but observe your children when they’re being told to share or stop picking on one another and you’ll notice that it only improves as they grow. But having a pet from a young age can do wonders for helping them to understand that other living beings feel emotions and pain just like they do. From learning how to physically handle an animal to sharing their toys, space and parents’ attention with another creature, various international studies show that your child is likely to develop empathy at a faster rate than kids who don’t have a pet throughout the early years of their life.
Most pet owners will agree that owning a dog makes their children more responsible. Whether it’s feeding, walking or grooming Fido, or just dedicating some time in the day to playing with their pet, your child will begin to understand that this animal is a living being that relies on them for its survival – particularly if you enforce the rule that if they don’t look after them, no one will. You can gradually increase your kids’ level of responsibility for your family pet, too, starting with weekly bathing or brushing/grooming and building up to a regular feeding schedule.
The circle of life
Losing a family pet can be just as traumatising for your children as losing a relative – sometimes, even more so. But having your kids understand that death is a part of life from an early age can do a world of good for their coping mechanisms as they grow up, but only when you handle it in the right way. Take the time to research the best ways to approach the ‘death’ talk with your kids, particularly if your beloved family pet is aging, and have a clear action plan for when the time comes. At the other end of the spectrum, having pets that breed can be a good way to introduce your children to the concept of birth and ‘the birds and the bees’ – giving you some good points of reference when it comes time to have that notoriously awkward conversation.
You might not normally consider ‘trust’ as an important lesson for your kids to learn – particularly from an animal – but having a pet can help them to understand what it means to develop a mutual sense of loyalty with another being. It’s also important for your children to overcome any fears they may have, particularly when it comes to dogs and cats, and build a good foundation to develop a healthy relationship with animals upon as they grow up. From this, your kids will learn to respect, love and care for the animals in their life – and, as many psychological studies have revealed, do the same for the people in their lives, too.