Pets are part of many children's lives. Parental involvement, open discussion, and
planning are necessary to help make pet ownership a positive experience for everyone.
A child who learns to care for an animal, and treat it kindly and patiently, may
get invaluable training in learning to treat people the same way. Careless treatment
of animals is unhealthy for both the pet and the child involved.
Choosing an Appropriate Pet
While all kinds of pets can bring children pleasure, it is important to choose a
pet that is right for your family, your home, and your lifestyle; and one that your
child can help care for. Parents should be cautious about having aggressive animals
as pets. Exotic and unusual animals may be difficult to care for and should be considered
Caring for a Pet
Taking care of a pet can help children develop social skills. However, certain guidelines
Since very young children (under the age of 3-4 years) do not have the maturity to control their aggressive and angry impulses, they should be monitored with pets at all times.
Young children (under 10 years) are unable to care for a large animal, a cat or a dog, on their own.
Parents must oversee the pet's care even if they believe their child is old enough to care for a pet.
If children become lax in caring for a pet, parents may have to take over the responsibility on their own.
Children should be reminded in a gentle, not scolding way, that animals, like people, need food, water, and exercise.
Parents serve as role models. Children learn responsible pet ownership by observing their parents' behavior.
Advantages of Pet Ownership
Children raised with pets show many benefits. Developing positive feelings about
pets can contribute to a child's self-esteem and self-confidence. Positive relationships
with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good
relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion,
and empathy. Pets can serve different purposes for children:
They can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts--children often talk to their pets, like they do their stuffed animals.
They provide lessons about life; reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement.
They can help develop responsible behavior in the children who care for them.
They provide a connection to nature.
They can teach respect for other living things.
Other physical and emotional needs fulfilled by pet ownership include:
Love, loyalty, and affection
Experience with loss if a pet is lost or dies.
Although most children are gentle and appropriate with pets, some may be overly
rough or even abusive. If such behavior persists, it may be a sign of significant
emotional problems. Any child who abuses, tortures or kills animals should be referred
to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for a comprehensive evaluation.
Surprising New Info on Children, Allergies and Pets
Have you wondered whether to get your child a pet or not? Does your family have
a history of allergies and have you been told by your pediatrician it's not a good
There's interesting news from the Medical College of George (MCG), evidence from
a new study about children and pets published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association that having pets may actually help with allergies.
Dr. Dennis R. Ownby, chief of MCG's Section of Allergy and Immunology has followed
474 babies from birth to age 7 and has found that children exposed to two or more
in-door pets were half as likely to develop common allergies.
"Allergists have been trained for generations that dogs and cats in the house are
bad because they increase the risk of you becoming allergic to them; we know that
before you become allergic to something, you have to be repeatedly exposed to it."
He and his staff were just as surprised at the results of their study as you may
be reading it! "The data didn't look the way it was supposed to; as a matter of
fact, it was very strongly the opposite of what we expected to find," said Ownby.
Ownby speculates that the reason so many kids have allergies and ashthma now is
because we live too clean a life.
When kids play with cats and dogs, he says, they get licked. And that lick transfers
a lot of Gram-negative bacteria that may change the way the child's immune system
responds, says Ownby. The "lick" gives them exposure to higher levels of what's
called "endotoxins," the breakdown toxin from the Gram-negative bacteria.
According to an article from the Medical College of Georgia, studies from southern
Germany and Switzerland are confirming that children of farmers, regularly exposed
to animals, have less allergies than city kids.
Check it out with your pediatrician, but it may be getting a pet or two would be
beneficial for your children's allergy resistance, as well as all the other benefits
we drive from our beloved pets.
by Susan Dunn, MA Clinical Psychology, The EQ Coach