Growing up you can probably recall two or three really distinct memories. On the list would be your first day of school and the day your parents brought home a baby brother or sister but surely there would be a place for your first pet too.
Having a pet as a young child is a life changing experience and it provides more than just cute, fluffy memories. Taking responsibility for a living, breathing thing is the first experience many of us have of caring for someone or something outside of ourselves and it is this that experts now say is hugely beneficial for young children.
Writer and parent of two children Steven Burns, of Origin writings and 1day2write, said: “Having seen my two boys grow up with a puppy from a young age I have seen first hand how a strong relationship can build between animal and owner. Pets are more than just animals you feed and take for walks. You consider them as much a part of the family as yourself and for young children especially, that bond is very strong”.
It is this bond between animal and owner that can provide the following advantages for children growing up with a pet:
It Teaches Compassion
You can tell your child to think of others’ feelings until you’re blue in the face but unless they have compassion demonstrated to them, it’s a hard concept to understand and to put into practice. This is why having a pet is ideal. Firstly they witness first hand, the love and care you put into caring for your pet but more than that they are then able to mimic this behaviour themselves.
Children genuinely grow to love and care for their pets in a long-term relationship and their reward is the affection that is given back to them. It’s a great way to learn how investment into a relationship can pay off over the years.
It Reduces Anxiety
Coming home from school after a long day and facing a barrage of questions from a well-meaning parent can drive children from stress to tantrum quite easily. But having someone at home who doesn’t ask any questions and who is there for a hug or a game of chase can soak up some of the anxieties that school life so often leaves children struggling with. A completely non-judgemental listening ear for all your problems is worth its weight in gold.
For children in difficult home lives too, having this unconditional love of a pet can be a shelter in an otherwise stormy environment and provide comfort for any child facing a tough time.
Serena Holt, a young mom and guest lecturer at Britstudent and Writemyx, says: “Sometimes the last thing my daughter wants from me is to talk. She wants to sit on the couch with her kitten and just have a few moments snuggled up together before she can begin to unpack how her day has been.”
It Gets Kids More Active
Yes, even hamsters can have this effect! Anything that switches kids off of screens and on to actively doing something else, whether that’s chasing a dog around, cleaning out a hamster cage or playing with string with the cat. All these things point to a more active lifestyle, which in turn promotes better health and a better sense of well being.
There’s no getting away from it, pets are a huge responsibility. Even the most aloof cat will require regular food and trips to the vets. They can be costly and demanding and who likes taking a dog walk in the driving rain? However, for all the hard work, there’s nothing better than coming back from a tough day at work or school and being greeted by a pet who loves you unconditionally. This is true if you’re 42, 82 or 10, having a pet is the most natural way in the world to de-stress, reduce anxiety and learn what it is to have someone rely on you for their most basic needs.
Children growing up in a pet friendly house gain so much more than just a few great memories, they make a friend for life.