Why Every Child Should Have a Pet: Life Lessons for Little Ones
Our child’s first pet is a huge deal. As parents, we need to put a lot of careful thought into introducing any critters into the family dynamic. When my children were little, our house could easily been mistaken for Dr. Doolittle’s had it not been for the absence of one large pink snail.
There is a lot to be said for having a pet already established in the home when our little ones are born. But having older animals with new babes can present a whole other set of problems – like introducing your critter to your newborn.
But what about when your kids are a little bigger and they’re yearning for their own creature companion? Pets aren’t just a great opportunity for our children to experience the thrill of having a playmate. Being the caretaker of a pet can also teach our little people some valuable life lessons.
The main reason our children’s first starter pets are typically goldfish or hamsters is so that they can be introduced to the concept of responsibility. Small animals are perfect learning pets for children because they don’t require the same kind of attention that bigger pets, like dogs and cats, do. Pocket pets require simple tasks for their well-being. Kids can easily take on the responsibility so that their first pet is truly theirs – and not just another responsibility for mom or dad.
From having pets, my own children acquired a sense of responsibility that trickled over to other parts of their lives like homework and chores. They would breathlessly burst through the door after school, and get right to their chores and schoolwork so that they could finish and play with their furry pals. Of course, they were not as thrilled to clean their cages, but overtime they learned that everything comes with a price (hence another good lesson).
Gentleness and compassion
We know only too well how rough our little people can sometimes be – as if they don’t even know their own strength. All the broken toys attest to that fact. Small pets teach our children the importance of being gentle with their little creatures. And this lesson, in turn, positively affects other relationships, including how they relate to friends and siblings.
When my youngest child accidentally squeezed her hamster, Moe, too hard, we feared the worst. She wailed hysterically as I tried frantically to breathe life back into the poor little guy. Thankfully we were able to resurrect Moe who went on to live another two years. After that close call, my little one walked around, gently holding him and cooing words of kindness and compassion. It was quite beautiful.
Studies have shown, time and time again, how powerfully healing animals can be to their humans. I remember being sick as a little girl and my dog never left my side. My mother said that he even refused to eat. To this day, I still remember how comforting it felt to have his wet nose pressed up against my hand and to experience such unconditional love.
Our children’s pets can also be an incredible stress release, creating a safe harbor for them when they begin to face the challenges and complexities of growing up. Pets simply don't have an agenda. They couldn’t care less whether or not we had a bad day, they are just happy to get (and give!) some love and attention at the end of a long, lonely day.
Studies show that chemicals are released in our brains when we anticipate seeing our pets or when we think about stroking, holding, and hugging them. They calm us and give us a sense of acceptance and unconditional love. There is a reason that 70-80 million Americans own dogs and another 74-96 million own cats.
If you believe that your child is mature enough to tackle the responsibility of a pet, begin small with a low-maintenance starter pet like a goldfish or a lizard. Remember to take it slow and set limits with how many pets they are allowed. Otherwise one day, you may just find yourself with a big, pink snail living in your backyard.
Are you thinking about getting a pet for your little one? What creature do you have your sights set on?