Parents often introduce their children to pets to give them a sense of responsibility and teach them about the circle of life. While there are plenty of teachable moments when kids and animals interact, having a pet offers children many more rewards when it comes to their health and psychological development.
We’ve all been told that having a pet relieves stress and helps some people relax, but it also can show kids that animals can also be victims of things like separation anxiety and other stress-related problems. This can help children understand how valuable caring, love, and affection are for everyone, not just humans.
Here are five ways that having a pet can help your child psychologically and perhaps offer them some health rewards.
1. Comfort & Companionship
Going through childhood comes with a lot of emotions—dealing with highs and lows, experiencing ups and downs. Having a pet as a companion gives the child a place to turn for comfort and can help them come to grips with some of life’s valuable lessons. It also encourages them to acquire the ability to self-soothe, learn to relax during stressful situations, and deal with their emotions in a productive, nonviolent way.
2. Less Sickness & Fewer Allergies
Studies have shown that infants exposed to dogs and cats have fewer respiratory infections compared to those without pets. Scientists have concluded that this early exposure to animals strengthens their immune systems, which helps them ward off infections and reduces instances of allergic reactions, even making them less susceptible to contracting allergies.
3. Higher Self Esteem & Less Loneliness
Further research has found people with pets have higher levels of self-esteem and feel less lonely compared to their animal-free counterparts. In case you’re concerned that your child will replace their schoolmates with a four-legged friend, surveys have shown that most people believe pets “complement rather than compete with” human companions. Animal owners who participated in the study had the greatest emotional return, according to this research.
4. More Exercise & Less Weight Gain
There’s a plethora of research showing that pet owners get more exercise than people who don’t own an animal. This is likely due to the amount of time spent either playing with a cat or walking a dog, and getting kids to be more active ultimately leads to less weight gain and an overall healthier lifestyle.
5. Conquering Depression & Feeling Happier
Finally, owning a dog or a cat simply makes people happier overall and can help defeat depression. Think of a time a child has been soothed by cuddling with a favorite stuffed toy or blanket and how this feeling would be exponentially raised by bonding with another living creature instead. Or imagine the child having a bad day at school and coming home to the happy face of a dog wagging its tail or a furry, purring cat.
Consider choosing a pet for your child as a way to teach them much more than caring for another living creature. You’ll also make them healthier and happier in the long run while giving them a playful and loving companion.
Article by Amy Kristine Williams – mother of two, social worker, and positive parenting advocate.