Newswise — Many people remember caring for their childhood pet and the joy they felt from developing a relationship with an animal. Although welcoming a pet into your home is a big commitment, children can learn responsibility by learning to care for pets with adult supervision. In addition, childhood pets can also introduce children to friendship and family bonding.
“Children learn about responsible pet ownership by observing their parents,” said Dr. Sara Griffin, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “As a child gets older, their responsibilities with pet care can increase. Children who learn to take on responsibilities appropriate for their age will gain self-confidence and grow up to be responsible adults.”
Additionally, family pets can encourage family bonding. Pets need daily exercise, so daily walking with the pet may provide good quality time for the family. Playing or interacting with the pet in the house can take the focus off the TV or computer and also encourage family interactions.
While children are learning to care for their pet, they may also develop a loving relationship with them. This companionship may provide children comfort and emotional support. “Positive pet interactions with children can help develop non-verbal communication skills, compassion, and empathy in children,” Griffin said. “Pets can provide children with a listening ear and friendship. Studies show that reading aloud to a loyal companion can increase a young reader’s self-confidence and improve reading skills.”
But how can a family know when it is the right time to get a pet? Sometimes this decision can be difficult. When considering adopting or purchasing a pet, it is important to remember the pet’s needs, such as food, water, and veterinary care. Adults must also commit to supervising their children caring for the pet’s basic needs. “Pet ownership is a time, energy, and financial commitment,” Griffin said. “Parental involvement is necessary for any child learning to care for a pet. A child who learns to care for a pet may learn important lessons, such as how to treat people and animals with kindness, patience, and respect.”
Additionally, the age of the children caring for the pet should also be considered when deciding if it is appropriate to welcome a pet into the home.
“Children as young as two years old can help feed a pet but should never be left alone with a pet because the child does not fully understand their boundaries,” Griffin said. “Children around the age of 10 should be able to walk, feed, and clean up after a pet, but would still require adult supervision.”
Pets offer both children and adults love, loyalty, and affection. Although adopting or purchasing a pet is a big commitment, they can make a positive impact on children by teaching them responsibility, compassion, and patience.