When I was a little child, my letter to Santa every year read the same. “Dear Santa, I’ve been good. Please bring me a puppy for Christmas this year.” And although I was good and Santa was very generous, somehow my Christmas wish came true only when I turned 23. There’s lots written about pets making great companions for adults and the aged but the true gift of a pet lies in growing up with one. Beyond the initial excitement of bringing home a puppy, kitten or even a chick, there are various scientifically proven advantages of growing up with pets. Here are the top 5:
1. Emotional Development:
Although just not through ownership of a pet, but more from caring for a pet, children learn to develop strong emotional bonds from growing up with a pet. A review of 22 studies on the impact of companion animals on children, the authors concluded that growing up with pets is linked to higher emotional and cognitive development. This helps children build empathy and respect. Bonding with pets helps children with special needs, particularly those with ADHD, Autism, develop empathy and better social behaviours. Kids develop better self-esteem from experiencing unconditional love from a pet. And in the inevitable experience of the passing of a pet, children learn to grieve and bereave.
2. Companionship :
Children love companionship and as we are about to find out, it isn’t limited to human companionship. Children with pets are less likely to experience loneliness as a study by Rhoades, H.; Winetrobe, H.; Rice, has shown. Pets also provide comfort to children. In a study by Dr Melson, on a group of 5-year-olds, who were asked what they did when they were lonely, sad, angry, more than 40% mentioned turning to their pets. Pets make great friends as they are loyal and unconditional in their affection.
By caring for a pet, children learn about nurturing and taking responsibility for another living being. Although at all times, children will need adult supervision while caring for pets, the daily tasks of feeding, walking, grooming the pet, give children the opportunity of taking responsibility at a fairly young age. This again is linked to higher self-esteem as they build confidence from being able to nurture another living creature.
4. Health Benefits:
Having a pet in the house lowers the risk of developing asthma or allergies in children. Kids with pets get more physical activity – to walk, run and play with a pet. Cuddling and petting an animal is therapeutic for many. It helps reduce anxiety and stress.
A study by the Children, Adolescent and Animals Research(CAAR) from the University of Edinburgh showed that growing up with pets has a positive influence on the health and well being of the child.
Research has shown that the presence of service dogs around children with Autism also helps in bringing down the level of cortisol, which is the stress response hormone present in the body. Pets can help children with special needs to reduce anxiety and calm themselves.
5. Social Skills:
Pets are great icebreakers and thereby can help children ease out in social situations. Also by learning to train a pet, children learn patience and better impulse control. While it’s more common for girls to naturally experience nurturing by caring for younger siblings, caring for pets, gives boys what they see as a more acceptable way to practice parenting, thereby learning important life skills. Interaction with pets also helps children with Autism develop confidence and also better physical contact.
There’s no doubt on the benefits of your child growing up with a pet. That being said, make sure to do your research on what pet is suitable for your home and lifestyle. Adopt, don’t shop, stay away from illegal breeders and puppy mills. Bring home a pet only when you are ready to commit to caring for it for life. Once you open your heart and home to a pet, it won’t take long for you and your family to experience the joys and love of an animal.