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Benefits of pets for children

created at: 2010/09/23

While it can be heartbreaking for children when their pet dies, it is important to remember all the wonderful ways pets enrich their lies and the valuable life lessons they teach.

Many of my fondest childhood memories involve my own pets- I adored them, confided in them, did homework with them by my side and included them in all aspects of my life, including celebrations such as birthdays and Christmas.  I also clearly remember the day that each of my beloved pets passed away and every time I was heartbroken and cried for days.  I made a ‘memory box’ of each of my pets possessions- with collar, photos, some hair etc and would sleep with it by my bed.

Looking back, I realise how these events taught me about life and love and help me appreciate the extraordinary bond that develops between a child and their pet.  Whilst it can be very sad for the family when they die, the way the death of a pet is responded to can have a very strong influence on the way that children will understand and cope with death later in life.  So, pets are valuable teachers throughout their lives and this includes their dying and death.

Apart from companionship, there are many benefits for children sharing their lives with a pet and as a parent myself, I witness on a daily basis the joy my pets bring to my daughter- her face lights up when they enter the room and she squeals with delight at the smallest interaction from them.

So, if you are considering whether to welcome a furry friend to your family- here are a few of the remarkable benefits our pets offer children.

created at: 2010/09/23

Pets teach responsibility- children learn responsibility by helping with the caretaking of a pet. They learn about the requirements of a living being- such as food, water and exercise. Fish are a great first pet because it is easy to give children and active role in feeding them. Pets that require more attention, like a cat or dog, can present an ideal opportunity for parent and child to spend time together doing activities such as walking the dog or preparing the food.

Pets are friends to children- children turn to pets when they need a friend, confidante or protector. In fact, studies have shown that pets often hold a similar status in children's lives to parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, teachers, best friends, and childminders. The study found that dogs, in particular, often superseded humans as a child's 'best friend'.

Pets do not judge children or get angry at them which can help with self esteem. Children often trust their pets with their secrets and private thoughts.

Pets aid childhood development- pets help children develop nurturing and social skills. Developing positive feelings about pets can aid self-esteem and help children develop non-verbal communication and compassion. Studies of school children have shown that pet owners are not only more popular with their classmates but seem to be more empathetic as well.

Pets teach life lessons- pets offer children the chance to nurture and care for a baby animal and watch them grow. They also help kids to learn about health and illness and visits to the veterinarian reinforce that pets need good health care too. Pets are often the first experience a child has with death and grieving

Pets help teach respect for other living beings.

Pets are fun – pets provide unconditional love, affection and comfort. Children can participate in safe games with their pets and those who participate in walking/exercising the family dog have the added benefit of extra physical activity. Kids enjoy helping with tasks like washing the dog or brushing the cat (always under supervision).

Pets encourage children to exercise - Physical activity in children results in social, mental and physical health benefits, to maximise these benefits it’s important to promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour in Australian children.The Children’s Leisure Activities Study (CLASS) was undertaken to look at the family environment and its influence on children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviours. Preliminary findings indicate that playing with pets is in the top ten physical activity choices for children and families; owning a dog may encourage children to exercise and help reduce childhood obesity.

Pets may help to reduce allergies and asthma- western cultures report increasing rates of asthma and allergic disease, with pets often implicated as a causal factor. An interesting development in research in recent years, however, has demonstrated the opposite may in fact be the case: the presence of cats and dogs in the home from an early age may actually ‘acclimatise’ the developing immune system so that it is less sensitive to allergens in later life.

Author Dr Katrina Warren

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