10 Reasons Your Kids Need a Pet

So your kids want a pet. They’re begging for a puppy, or clamoring for a guinea pig, or lobbying for a lizard. Whether you already have a “family” pet, or there are no animals in your house at this time, you know that pets can be expensive, and you’re worried that you are going to be the one to care for the animal once the newness has worn off. Pets will incur a cost to the family budget, and your children will need guidance in their journey into pet ownership. You and your child will need to do some serious research to find the best animal fit for your family. But the benefits of caring for a pet far outweigh the disadvantages. Still need some convincing? Below are ten reasons your child should experience pet ownership.

Unconditional Love
Animals love their humans. No matter how bad a day someone has, the dog will always want to play and the cat will always want to curl up on a warm lap. An animal can be a confidant for children; they can tell all their secrets to their pet. In a study reported in Parents magazine, Dr. Melson asked a group of 5-year-old pet owners what they did when they felt sad, angry, afraid, or when they had a secret to share. More than 40 percent spontaneously mentioned turning to their pets. “Kids who get support from their animal companions were rated by their parents as less anxious and withdrawn,” she says.

Responsibility for Others
Nurturing is a skill doesn’t just appear when we need it as adults; it has to be developed over a lifetime. A pet needs constant attention and care. That animal depends on humans for food, water, exercise, and entertainment. Having a pet teaches children to think of what someone else wants and needs. It teaches empathy and compassion. Kids will learn what it means to have someone rely on them for their health and happiness. Pet ownership is a gender-neutral way to develop nurturing in children; it doesn’t carry the stigma that playing with dolls or babysitting would for a boy.

Consequences
If you don’t feed the fish, it dies. Forget a bag of chips on the floor, the dog will eat them. Leave the garage door open, the cat will get out. Having a pet in the house teaches children that all actions have consequences. No amount of harping from my mother could get me to put my shoes in the hall closet instead of leaving them all over the foyer. Then we got a shoe-chewing dog. Finding my favorite dress shoes full of teeth marks taught me to put my things away.

Commitment
Getting a pet means giving it a home for life. Children need to learn to follow through with their decisions, and bringing a pet into the family requires someone to feed, clean, and exercise it no matter what else is going on. A misbehaving pet can be an opportunity for children to deal with difficult relationships. They can problem-solve reasons why a pet is misbehaving, and what solutions might work to change the behavior. Figuring out how to work through difficult periods in relationships will serve children well later in life.

Circle of Life
Animals grow from cute babies to adults to seniors, and eventually die. While many parents would like to protect their children from the darker side of life, dealing with the death of a pet can actually help children cope with other difficult life events. It opens up conversations about remembering a loved one that has passed away, and what happens after we die. Watching animal births and deaths exposes kids to the cycle of nature, the wonder of birth and different ways that animals care for their babies. Pets that require a non-vegetarian diet, such as snakes and other reptiles, will give children exposure to the relationships between predator and prey, and portray a more realistic version of the animal kingdom.

Reduction of Allergies
Doctors used to think that exposure to pets caused allergies. New studies have now shown that the opposite is actually true. Web MD reports that children who live with dogs and cats in the house during their first year actually have a reduced risk of developing allergies. Not only are they less likely to react to pet dander, but the protection also seems to extend to outdoor allergens as well. The theory behind this protection is that the high exposure to pet dander allows the immune system to de-sensitize to harmless antigens, leaving it less likely to react inappropriately.

Learning
Having pets in the house may actually improve academic performance. Children who struggle with reading can practice with their pets, who will not get impatient or critical. In another study reported by Parents magazine, children were asked to read in front of a peer, an adult, and a dog. Researchers monitored their stress levels, and found that kids were most relaxed around the animal, not the humans. Caring for a pet can also increase focus and responsibility, which will translate into the classroom.

Physical Activity
Animals require exercise no matter what the weather is like or how tired you are. Even cats, ferrets and lizards can be leash-trained, giving their human caregivers a good reason to get outside and walk around. Feeding pets and cleaning up after them also requires physical activity in scooping poop and carrying heavy bags of food or cat litter. Families in general tend to spend more time outdoors and get more exercise if they have a pet to care for. Taking the dog on a hike is not only a great physical activity, it also brings families together.

Non-verbal Communication Skills
Pets cannot use words to tell their humans what they need. Children will have to learn to read an animal’s cues such as body language and vocalizations. What does it mean when the dog barks out the window? Why does the cat rub up against people’s legs? Older children can also learn to train animals using positive reinforcement. Teaching an animal tricks is not only fun for kids, but it keeps the pets entertained as well and strengthens the relationship between the child and their pet.

Fun and Entertainment
Having a pet in the house is fun! Dogs like to play, parrots can talk, and ferrets have all kinds of antics that keep everyone in the family entertained. Even an aquarium adds visual interest to the house and can relieve stress by watching the fish swim around. Pet ownership adds another layer of joy to a family and a household.

Sources:
Bill Strickland The Benefits of Pets Parents.com
http://www.parents.com/parenting/pets/kids/pets-good-or-kids/?page=1

Pets May Protect Children From Allergies Web MD News
http://www.webmd.com/allergies/news/20070101/pets-may-protect-children-allergies