Pets and children can share a remarkable relationship – there is something extraordinary about the bond that develops between a child and their special playmate. Apart from companionship, there are many other benefits for children sharing their lives with a pet.
Children learn responsibility by helping with the caretaking of a pet. They learn about the requirements of a living being- such as food, water and exercise.
Fish are a great first pet because it is easy to give children an active role in feeding them. Pets that require more attention, like a cat or dog, can present an ideal opportunity for parent and child to spend time together doing activities such as walking the dog or preparing the food.
Children turn to pets when they need a friend, confidante or protector. In fact, studies have shown that pets often hold a similar status in children’s lives to parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, teachers, best friends, and childminders. The study found that dogs, in particular, often superseded humans as a child’s ‘best friend’. Pets do not judge children or get angry at them which can help with self esteem. Children often trust their pets with their secrets and private thoughts.
Pets help children develop nurturing and social skills. Developing positive feelings about pets can aid self-esteem and help children develop non-verbal communication and compassion. Studies of school children have shown that pet owners are not only more popular with their classmates but seem to be more empathetic as well.
Pets are often the first experience a child has with death and grieving. Pets also help kids to learn about health and illness and visits to the veterinarian reinforce that pets need good health care too. Pets help teach respect for other living beings.
Pets provide unconditional love, affection and comfort. Children can participate in safe games with their pets and those who participate in walking/exercising the family dog have the added benefit of extra physical activity. Kids enjoy helping with tasks like washing the dog or brushing the cat (always under supervision).
Physical activity in children results in social, mental and physical health benefits, to maximise these benefits it’s important to promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour in Australian children.
The Children’s Leisure Activities Study (CLASS) was undertaken to look at the family environment and its influence on children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviours. Preliminary findings indicate that playing with pets is in the top ten physical activity choices for children and families; owning a dog may encourage children to exercise and help reduce childhood obesity.
Western cultures report increasing rates of asthma and allergic disease, with pets often implicated as a causal factor. An interesting development in research in recent years, however, has demonstrated the opposite may in fact be the case: the presence of cats and dogs in the home from an early age may actually ‘acclimatise’ the developing immune system so that it is less sensitive to allergens in later life.
This article was written by Dr Katrina Warren