#AskAlyson: The Benefits of a Family PetTags: #AskAlyson, mental health, pets, social interest
My kids have been begging me to get a pet. It’s a daily fight now. I don’t want one because we are already so busy and I KNOW that I will end up looking after it. They are dirty and just not my thing. Am I being mean?
This Ain’t A Farm
Dear This Ain’t A Farm,
The decision to have a family pet is one that should not be taken lightly. As an animal lover, I think there is nothing more tragic than a pet being ignored, mistreated, or re-sold because a family had not done their homework about what was involved and misjudged what they were getting themselves into.
It’s a big responsibility. And if you want to say “NO”, that is better than buying one and having regrets.
Every family is different and no one set of rules applies. However, I would say that there are many hidden benefits to children owning pets that you may not have considered when weighing the pros and cons for your family.
Here are some of the benefits of having a family pet:
1. Responsibility and social interest
One critical task in parenting is to help children develop their social interest. Social interest is defined as having a sense of care and concern for others. If we fail to develop a child’s social interest, they will instead develop in a self-interested way. AKA, entitled. While a preschooler may not be able to make dinner for the family, they can practice caring for others by being given the simple daily task of giving their pet fish a few food pellets each morning, or of dumping a cup of dry cereal in the dog’s bowl. Older kids can walk the dog, groom the cat, etc. No matter the task, a pet is a great way for a child to learn responsibility and experience the joy of caring for others.
2. A sibling of sorts
Pets really do join the family as a family member. For only children this can be an especially significant relationship. For the baby of the family, a pet may serve as someone “smaller” than them to help make them feel big. For a middle child, who often feel lost in the family, they can feel like they have an ally amongst their pet. Our Portuguese water dog inserted herself into the family as a sibling right between my two girls. She would obey my eldest, and refused to comply with my youngest!
3. Curiosity and wonder about the natural world
A love of the natural world and all its wonders can be enhanced by living with animals. I grew up with a salt water aquarium that was filled with the most wondrous plants, fish and aquatic animals. My brother had a snake and I was so amazed at how it ate monthly, detached its jaw and shed its skin. All these experiences gave me a deep appreciation for nature, and a want to learn more!
4. Learning the interconnectivity and interdependence of all life forms
My brothers snake ate mice. I was sad for the mouse, but without the mouse, the snake would starve too. I came to understand that everything has a role and relationship in keeping things alive. Feeding fish pellets keeps fish alive. And, we need clean water in our fish tank just like we need clean water in our oceans. These larger world concepts can be experienced more concretely for young children through living with pets.
5. Unconditional love of a best friend
If your child has a bad day, they can tell all their problems to the family pet. This is very cathartic. Dogs are used for therapy with the elderly and special needs children. Reading programs have children reading to dogs, since dogs will listen without judgment. Dog is a man’s best friend after all!
6. Anxiety and stress reduction
Universities bring animals onto campus for students to pet and play with during exams to help reduce stress. While many dorms do not allow animals, special exceptions can be made for Guinea pigs; another pet which help students who suffer with anxiety feel more at ease.
7. Learning about death
Sadly, pets die. This is hard on children (and parents), but it also serves as a way of experiencing death and grief and learning from it. This first experience of death, and recovering from loss, can be useful when dealing with future experiences of death, like that of a family member.
Finally, gosh darn it, pets are fun! Pets are wonderful playmates who makes us laugh and create great family memories. Don’t believe me? Watch Marley and Me.
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