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From their hilarious antics to their unconditional love, pets light up our lives. And while we adults love our pets dearly, children can have an especially strong bond with animals. Not only do pets provide children with entertainment and affection, but they also teach them about responsibility, compassion, trust, coping with loss, respect, and loyalty, and they help build children’s self-esteem, patience, and social skills. That’s quite a lot for a little furry (or scaly) creature who isn’t even trying to help!
Here are seven things that pets can teach children:
When you bring a pet home, children learn that pets are more than just cute creatures that entertain and love us; they are living beings that need to be cared for. As we know, pets require daily feeding, exercise, cleaning, attention, and affection. And it’s not only important that kids see adults providing all of these things for the family pet, but that they get involved and help, too (when the time is right).
Helping care for a pet not only teaches your child responsibility but it can also boost their self-esteem when they see that you—and the pet—trusts them with the pet’s care, and that Fido (or Mittens) clearly adores them, too.
As we know, pets can’t express what they need and they’re largely reliant on us for their survival and well-being. Caring for a pet requires kindness, understanding, and compassion, and kids can learn to extend these qualities to others through their interactions with their pets.
4. Behavioral Awareness
Parents can draw their kids’ attention to how their behavior affects the family pet. If the child is hyper and riling the dog up, the dog can get upset. If the child keeps pulling the cat’s tail, the cat may start steering clear of them. Their behaviors have consequences, and this can be highlighted through their interactions with their pet.
5. Coping with loss
Unfortunately, we tend to outlive our pets, and this means that your kids may have to deal with the loss of their little (or big) friends. In fact, a child’s first experience with the death of a loved one often involves the family pet. If managed in a respectful way, the pet’s death, while heartbreaking, can teach the child how to work through loneliness, anger, and sadness. You can use the experience to teach your child that it’s OK to feel sad and cry when you lose someone you love, and that it’s important to talk about it and share happy memories.
In order to earn your pet’s trust and love, you have to respect the animal. Kids learn they have to pet the animal gently, give it time and space to do what it wants, and more. These lessons can, of course, be applied to humans too.
7. Leadership skills
People with pets, particularly dogs, have to create and enforce rules, discipline the pet, and reward the pet for good behavior. These actions help kids develop confidence in their abilities and a feeling of authority—part of what it takes to be a good leader.
These are just a few of the many gifts our pets can give our kids. Hug your little furry (or scaly, feathery, or finned) friend a little closer tonight, and know that it is likely teaching your children valuable lessons!