Children living with pets are emotionally, psychologically and possibly even physiologically better off than those living without. That’s the conclusion of a wealth of international studies, and personal accounts from parents.
“Nothing less than alchemy is involved when animals and children get together, and the resulting magic has healing properties that work well,” wrote psychologist Elizabeth Anderson in her 2008 book, The Powerful Bond Between People and Pets.
“Pets make great friends. They’re the buddy that will play chase or hide and seek with you, share your snack or sit with you when you are feeling unwell,” says Country Animal Clinic veterinarian Dr Adri Rossouw. “Having dogs also encourages us a family to spend more time outdoors, which I know is good for everyone.
“And I know that research has shown that children raised in a household with pets tend to be healthier, with a lower risk for allergies etcetera.”
The benefits for children
Several dozen international studies show that children with pets have:
- Higher self-esteem and self-confidence
- Greater cognitive development
- Stronger social skills
- Reduced stress
- Are less lonely
- Improved communication skills
- Compassion and empathy
- Are nurturing
- Learn important life lessons, including reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement
- Learn responsibility
- Connect with nature
- Have greater respect for other living things
- Are more loyal, loving and affectionate
“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,” says the American Association of Child and Adult Psychiatry. “Careless treatment of animals is unhealthy for both the pet and the child involved,” .
Tracey Michau is mom to two-year-old Savannah. They live on a farm near Cradock in the Eastern Cape and Savannah is constantly surrounded by animals. The family has four cats, three dogs, and 15 donkeys, plus a large herd of goats, chickens and regular visits from tortoises and meerkats. Savannah loves them all.
“From the day she was born we introduced her to all of our animals. Most interesting was the reaction from our rescue herd of donkeys. They formed a circle around me and Savannah and wouldn’t budge. The matriarch acted very protectively towards Savannah and chased the others away returning to put her muzzle close to her head. It was really special to experience and see how gentle and intelligent these animals are,” says Tracey.
“I’m sure being around so many animals has something to do with the fact that Savannah has never been sick in her short life.”
Tracey, who is herself passionate about animals and wishes she’d become a vet, believes growing up with pets teaches children compassion, kindness and responsibility. “Savannah wants to hug and feed every animal she comes across. She helps us to feed them and as young as she is, she takes this role very seriously.
“She doesn’t need us 24/7 and I think it’s made her more independent. I’ve noticed too that she seems calmer around her animals. Savannah also doesn’t need toys for entertainment, her animal friends are her entertainment. I firmly believe that too many children these days are indulged with too many activities and things they don’t need to the point where it does them harm and not good.”
Mother of two teenage sons, Sharon Holden, says she let her children have as much contact as possible with pets growing up. “The dog and cat were their playmates; my oldest son often shared his biscuits with our dog. I even caught him drinking water out of the dog’s bowl. I didn’t worry about germs or diseases and my children were never sick. While all my friends with babies were back and forth to the paediatrician, my children never needed him and I believe that’s because they were constantly exposed to animals.”
Dr Adri is mom to two children under the age of 5.
“Having pets has taught my children to have compassion for animals and care for them. They both LOVE animals and Mila knows that she needs to be gentle when touching them.”
“For me, the added bonus, is sharing my passion with my children,” says Dr Adri. “We played vet-vet yesterday with their soft toy animals, giving meds and injections, putting plasters on einas and rocking the sick animals to sleep.”
However, before a family takes in a pet there are several important considerations to be made such as affordability, space and time constraints. Animals need attention, they need love, they have physical and psychological needs. Before rushing out and picking your pet, read our article here https://www.ebervet.com/choosing-a-pet-for-your-child/
Remember, a pet is for life, not just for Christmas!