The U.S. is a pet-loving nation, with around 38% of households having a dog, 25% a cat, 3% birds, and almost 1% a horse. Pets provide family members with unconditional love and friendship, they keep us active, and they also provide the opportunity to learn important life skills like consistency, commitment, and responsibility. So how can you help your children grow, mature, and exercise empathy with a little help from your family pet?
Everyone Needs a Little Sun and Good Food
From the time your children are very young, you can point out the many similarities that all sentient things—human beings and pets, for instance—have in common. In the same way that your family has set meal times, ensure your pet has a regular schedule for exercise, food, and play. If you have a dog, your kids can change you for their daily walk. Ensure your daily outing fits the needs of your dog, paying heed to their breed, age, and fitness levels. If you are taking a walk with little children, head for a nearby park and make sure an active dog gets enough exercise by playing fetch and frisbee with them, and by allowing them to socialize with other dogs. Point out to your kids that dogs, just like people, need friends.
Emphasizing the Need for Lifelong Learning
Pets’ needs change considerably as they age. A relatively fit young cat, for instance, may be very independent and may require little more than their daily feed, play session, and clean kitty litter tray. As they age, however, they may start needing a special diet and medication. Older, mature children can take charge of feeding a needy pet and providing them with medication, provided an adult is there to check that no medication is missed. You can provide your child with reminder apps and other tools that can keep them on track. For new or unusual pets like rodents, research your pet’s needs online. If you have your hearts set on a hamster, for instance, carefully read a thorough hamster care guide before you take your new four-pawed friend home. That way, you can make sure you have bought all the supplies you need, and you can be sure that the pet’s needs are compatible with the care you are able to provide.
Pets and Affection
Many pets thrive with a little love and affection. Dogs and cats often enjoy being near their loved ones and bathing in their loving words and caresses. From the time your children are babies and toddlers, show them the power of soft touch and kindness. Explain to them that pulling on a dog’s or hamster’s ear or tail is painful, and that animals can feel angry or frightened if they are subjected to pain or loud shouting in their ear. Children learn by example, so if they see you treat your pets as the jewels they are, your children will naturally follow suit.
Pets provide hours of fun and activity, but they can also teach children to be responsible. Even very young children can help with tasks like filling a water bowl or placing kibble in a dog’s dish. Older children can take charge of chores like cleaning rodent enclosures, walking the dog alongside you, and keeping pet beds clean. All children can learn what kindness and love look like when they watch you interact with your pet in a gentle, affectionate manner.