Most of us had a pet and know that warm feeling of having a living and loving creature next to us. But have you ever asked yourself if this experience has taught you anything or has it been good or bad for your life? Furthermore, should your children have a pet, or how does having it impacts their development? Many future parents not only consider their memories of childhood but also explore scientific information to understand if animals are beneficial for a child. Psychologists, sociologists, pediatrists, and many other specialists conducted research, analyzed interactions between young humans and animals, and compared various statistics to make evidence-based conclusions (Rajan et al., 2017). Although having pets might seem like a risky experience for children’s health and safety, the results of most studies suggest the opposite.
The evidence that scientists gather from research can be supported by our own experiences of having a pet in childhood. I grew up in a rural area where having dogs, cats, rabbits, or hamsters as pets are considered an important attribute of a family. The dog we had was one of my close friends with whom I shared all my secrets and played countless games. As an adult, I now understand that animals around us impact our lives, teach us about to be better humans, and improve the qualities necessary for us to co-exist.
Moreover, bringing an animal home with a child can significantly change how parents and babies perceive relationships, vulnerability, responsibility, and communication (Fisher, 2020). My speech will provide you with since-based insights about the benefits of having a pet for children, viewed from personal development, education, health, and family relationships perspectives.
A child requires constant attention, and frequently they cannot stay alone for an extended period, and this is the primary case where having a pet is good. Indeed, a companion for all activities and adventures eliminates loneliness from childhood and adds true friendship into the life of a young person. My memories are filled with amazing moments I shared with a dog Pirate I as he participated in everything I could imagine doing! Children improve their socialization skills by communicating with an animal and interacting through playing and caregiving (Christian et al., 2020). Besides, parents can timely identify mental health deviations by watching how their child interacts with a pet. Aggressive actions toward an animal or frequent alienation from it might signal the need to consult with a psychologist.
Behavioral scientists also point out that domestic animals help us become more open to others because they never judge and demonstrate unconditional love. Christian et al. (2020) state that “pets may protect children from developing social-emotional problems and should be taken into account when assessing child development and school readiness” (p. 203). Children are not scared to be vulnerable next to their furry friends and develop a secure attachment style that will profoundly impact their future relationships (Christian et al., 2020). Adults who never had a pet are more avoidant, and experience difficulties in building bonds with people they love.
Another benefit of having a pet during childhood is the responsibility the experience can teach. A child who has no domestic animals might not understand that their actions might lead to severe consequences. In contrast, having a pet means that there is someone even smaller and more vulnerable, and it is critical to avoid harming it. Moreover, children can learn to be responsible by realizing that the animal has basic needs (Hawkins & Williams, 2017). Parents can assign the feeding, grooming, and walking chores to the younger family members to make them see how their commitments improve their beloved friends’ lives.
The caregiving experience is also important to be acquired in early childhood, and having a pet is a profound and safe opportunity for it. Psychologists suggest that the earlier we start caring for someone else, the more positive emotions we receive from it throughout our lives (Hawkins & Williams, 2017).
Hawkins and Williams (2017) point out that “promoting compassion and empathy towards animals has important implications for prosocial behavior towards other children, as animal-directed empathy can generalize to human-directed empathy” (p. 490). Personal development advantages of having pets such as becoming open, responsible, and caregiving are valuable for society in general as these qualities help build healthy relationships.
Pets also positively influence the learning and educational process during the early childhood and first school years. The evident benefit is the engagement in various physical activities vital for a child’s development, yet animals can also assist with acquiring new skills and knowledge like reading and writing. The experiment with 5 years old children who learned to read out loud confirmed that practicing with the pets next to them helped them to spend more time studying (Rajan et al., 2017). Pets are also perceived as friends or non-judging listeners, encouraging preschoolers to explore books to then share with them (Rajan et al., 2017). With animals, children are willing to discover more of what is happening around them, and it improves the curiosity necessary for further studies.
Education includes repeating what has just been obtained, thus doing homework or memorizing new information alone would not be efficient. Learning skills are more easily gained when a child has someone to share what they have recently found out, and that reflection-based approach is also pet-involving (Rajan et al., 2017). I remember myself creating fairy tales in my head and then telling them to my dog that always listened to me carefully. He was patient because he knew that it will eventually end up in getting a delicious treat as a reward, but the experience helped me learn to compose and share stories.
Domestic animals have a different life cycle than humans, and it is another important phenomenon people need to learn in their early years. Most pets die in 10-20 years since they have been brought home, and children might witness how they age or get lost. The experience is severe for a child, however, multiple studies concluded that going through such trauma at a young age will help deal with challenging situations in the future (Rajan et al., 2017). Furthermore, parents can explain that life is not infinite and therefore precious based on their pet’s example. Children with a healthy psyche will understand these important rules properly and will consider them in their decision-making.
Diseases and sudden loss of pets might force a child to overreact and reveal sides of their character that could not be found in other conditions. Parents might avoid getting a pet to protect their children from experiencing such challenges, however, they do more harm than good while hiding them from reality. Psychologists recommend filling childhood with diverse events, feelings, and interactions to help grow an adequate person (Fisher, 2020). Parents can help children cope with difficulties rather than eliminate them and create artificial comfort.
Having pets at home is frequently considered dangerous for children’s health and safety, however, the opposite is true. A child needs to have a pet to develop a strong immune system, decrease the risk of developing severe allergies, and grow up physically active (Miles et al., 2017).
Interactions with pets are full of fur, mud, and dust but these conditions are necessary for humans to become capable of protecting themselves from severe infections. Consequently, involving a cat or dog in the daily life of a young individual is worth the risk of getting in significant injuries. Miles et al. (2017) claim that “children in pet-owning households were significantly healthier in terms of better general health, higher activity level, and less concern from parents regarding mood, behavior, and learning ability” (p. 430). These health benefits are valuable, therefore pets at home are profound for improving the child’s quality of the immune system and overall life.
COVID-19 outbreak forced millions of people to change their lifestyles and perception of health. Many families spent months at home together with their children and pets, and the latter influenced how people coped with the anxiety and stress caused by the uncertainty and new conditions. The pandemic is associated with the increase in mental health crises among adults and children, therefore their interactions with households’ animals are the important factor to consider. Based on the study of families with pets, Jalongo (2021) claims that during the COVID-19 lockdowns “companion animals as a source of psychological support and stress reduction may be particularly important to children” (p. 7). Consequently, a pet is beneficial for the child because it helps cope with stressful or unwanted situations.
The living creatures we care about and are emotionally tied to are often perceived as family members, therefore having a pet is beneficial for improving the relationships. Moreover, the way how animals are being treated by children can reveal valuable details about how other members act towards each other. For instance, a child who witnessed abuse between their parents can start beating a pet, and it would signal mental health problems or psychological crisis (Fisher, 2020). Having a pet is also beneficial for families because feeding, grooming, and addressing the needs of a vulnerable animal enhances the bonds between the members (Fisher, 2020). Healthy relationships between parents are crucial for happy and prosperous childhood, therefore strong family bonding achieved with the help of a dog or cat is a benefit!
Childhood is the foundation for the future because it prepares us for being a part of society, building relationships, facing challenges, and experiencing various emotions. It is proven a child needs to have a pet during this determinative period to learn how to interact with others, care for the vulnerable, and be emotionally consistent. Furthermore, the advantages of having animals at home, such as immune system enhancement, a decrease in allergy risks, and mental health protection are reasonable. If you want your children to develop empathy and responsibility, help them grow fit and sound, and give them a trustworthy friend, acquire a pet!
Christian, H., Mitrou, F., Cunneen, R., & Zubrick, S. R. (2020). Pets are associated with fewer peer problems and emotional symptoms, and better prosocial behavior: Findings from the longitudinal study of Australian children. The Journal of Pediatrics, 220, 200-206. Web.
Fisher, P. G. (2020). Should families acquire pets to promote child development? The Journal of Pediatrics, 220, 1-3.
Hawkins, R. D., & Williams, J. M. (2017). Childhood attachment to pets: Associations between pet attachment, attitudes to animals, compassion, and humane behavior. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(5), 490. Web.
Jalongo, M. R. (2021). Pet Keeping in the Time of COVID-19: The canine and feline companions of young children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 1-11. Web.
Miles, J. N., Parast, L., Babey, S. H., Griffin, B. A., & Saunders, J. M. (2017). A propensity-score-weighted population-based study of the health benefits of dogs and cats for children. Anthrozoös, 30(3), 429-440. Web.
Rajan, V., Gee, N. R., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2017). Children’s play, self-regulation, and human-animal interaction in early childhood learning. In How Animals Help Students Learn (pp. 124-137). Routledge. Web.