Pets: More than fun companions
Many of us have wonderful memories of growing up with pets in our home. Pets are often our first and most loyal friends and they see us through some of our toughest times in life.
But pets are much more than furry pals - there’s actually a slew of mental and physical health benefits to pet ownership as well as developmental perks for kids who grow up with cats, dogs and other household companions.
So the next time your child begs you for a cuddly kitten or a sweet puppy, think twice before shutting the idea down. You might be pleasantly surprised by how having a pet benefits your children!
Benefit #1: More compassion, empathy and care for others
Research shows that kids who regularly interact with pets have an advantage when building relationships with people. Socializing is intimidating even for adults, so you can imagine how scary it can be at times for kids. Pets are a great training ground for building relationships - they won’t pass judgment when your child forgets to use good manners or is having a crummy day. But above all, they require care and responsibility. Kids will become more aware of the needs of others as they watch out for their pets.
We’ve all read books and seen movies about kids and pets with unbreakable bonds - there’s no doubt that children and animals can connect on a special level. Strengthen this bond and teach life lessons by giving your kids responsibilities for your pet’s well-being. The tasks can be simple, like feeding the dog each morning or cleaning the cat’s litter box. Praise your kids for a job well done whenever they complete pet chores and add on more responsibilities if they seem ready.
Benefit #2: Better mental and physical health
Pets are major mood boosters and wonderful companions. Today more than 200,000 people in the US have registered emotional support animals (ESAs) to help with conditions like anxiety and depression. But even people who don’t have mental health concerns can benefit from having a pet:
- Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine - the brain’s “happiness chemicals”
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those who don’t own pets
- People with domestic animals have lower blood pressure in high-stress situations than those without
Both children and adults fare better mentally and physically with a household pet, and the benefits aren’t limited to cats or dogs - researchers have also seen calming effects from having fish and other small animals at home.
Benefit #3: A best friend for your child
As parents we spend hours every week trying to keep our children entertained, stimulated and happy (and out of trouble!). Something as simple as walking the family dog or petting the cat can be a fun and relaxing part of your child’s daily routine. As a bonus, playing with pets is an excellent way for your child to befriend these special members of your family.
Kids can face friendship struggles at any age. A 5-year-old might be anxious about finding playmates at school and a 15-year-old might worry about rifts pulling apart their friend group. But through all the friendship challenges of youth and adulthood, pets are our constant, loving companions.
Benefit #4: Opportunities to learn
Good pets are trained pets: they can respond to basic commands, behave well in public and are safe around other animals and people. Most kids are totally capable of training calm, non-aggressive pets with the right tools and some help from their parents. Training a new dog or cat can even be a bonding project that you work on as a family.
Through training a new pet, your kids will learn patience and consistency. They’ll build solid habits and see the benefits of working hard to achieve a goal.
Benefit #5: A bond to last a lifetime
Getting a pet is like adding a new member to your family. They’re around you constantly and will probably join in on camping trips, family reunions and other special get-togethers. They’ll pose in family photos and be at the center of many good memories. And for your children, the friendship they develop with your pets might be the first experience they have with loving and caring for someone that’s more vulnerable and innocent than they are. They’ll never forget those tender memories.
Is my family ready for a pet?
As badly as you and your kids may want a furry friend, make sure that everyone is ready for the responsibility. You can figure out if your household is prepared for a pet by:
- Researching the costs of owning the animal you want to buy or adopt
- Making sure you have enough space and time for the pet
- Getting all the right equipment, like crates, toys, cleaning supplies or training items
- Talking to your kids about the responsibilities of being a pet owner
If you feel ready, say an enthusiastic “YES!” to adding a furry friend to your family - your kids will be better off for it!