April 26th is National Kids and Pets Day, a great opportunity to celebrate the bond between your children and their pets. Most of us have fond memories of growing up with a family pet, and we know they enriched our lives in so many ways. So it’s no surprise that having a dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig, or horse, improves our social and physical development, and can be good for our health, too! So when your child begs for a puppy for his birthday, you might want to consider these seven benefits of having a family pet:
7 ReasonsWhy Every Child Should Have A Pet
1. Love and Valued Relationships
A childhood pet is often our first and best friend. Pets teach us how to develop close, relational bonds with those that we spend the most time with. Positive interaction with a pet helps children form good social skills.
Dogs consistently demonstrate unconditional love to their family of humans. They are happy to see us and enjoy being with us whether we’re relaxing in front of the fireplace, enjoying an ice cream cone, or going for a jog.
Cats have their own way of showing affection. While they might not jump up and down and wag their tails, they too are emotional creatures that form close attachments. They demonstrate their love in more subtle ways. Cats also enjoy companionship by curling up in your lap, lying near when you’re reading or working at the computer, or following you on a walk.
2. Science Lessons of Life
Witnessing the miracle of an animal’s birth is an enriching experience. Children learn visually and physically about the stages of development and the complete life cycle. They see firsthand the vulnerability of newborn animals, and what is needed for their survival. They learn how essential proper nourishment, protection, and care is for an animal to grow and thrive. Whether it’s watching a new foal, lamb, or kid stand on its wobbly legs for the first time, a mother cat clean and nurse her kittens, a butterfly emerge from its cocoon, or a chick peck its way out of an egg, we see what it takes for young creatures to enter the world and what is necessary for them to thrive.
Learning to care for a family pet helps children develop responsibility. There’s no better way for children to learn that pets depend on us than to have them take an active role in their care. Filling the pet’s bowl with fresh water or food helps children become consistent in performing important, routine tasks.
While feeding and caring for their pet, your child can learn to openly practice nurturing skills. In families with no younger siblings, having a pet provides an opportunity for the child to show tenderness and carefulness that they might not otherwise have the chance to demonstrate.
Assisting in the care of a pet helps children to feel a sense of accomplishment. Studies have shown that children with pets have a higher level of confidence than those without pets.
6. Physical Activity
Owning a dog encourages us to walk daily, and to be more active. Thus, it is no surprise that dog owners especially were found to be 54% more likely to get the recommended amount of physical exercise.
7. A Health Boost
Interaction with pets has a positive impact on our health at every age. It helps reduce stress levels, lowers blood pressure, and lessens the risk of heart disease. Children’s health greatly benefits as well. Infants and children living in homes with pets (especially dogs and cats) have a stronger immune function, and thus have lower risks of ear infections and respiratory tract infections than children in non-pet households. Researchers comparing children’s school attendance records found that those in pet-free homes on the average missed more school days per year than those with pets.
While there are many benefits to owning a pet, weigh the pros and cons before you bring a puppy or kitten home. Make sure that the pet you choose is a good fit for your location, your lifestyle, and the members of your household. It is important to convey the joy of loving and caring for a new pet to your child. Demonstrate the tasks and exhibit the behaviors you want your child to mirror. Your presence and guidance will help your child gain confidence and success as they begin playing, feeding and caring for their new pet.
And for those allergic to fur or feathers, there are still lots of other options like hermit crabs, butterflies, lizards, fish, and more!
Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Pearls of Garden Wisdom: Time-Saving Tips and Techniques from a Country Home, Pearls of Country Wisdom: Hints from a Small Town on Keeping Garden and Home, and Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. Tukua has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.