The influence that pets have on the development of a child has not been studied for so long. Yet it is often said that growing up with a pet is beneficial for a child. Is that also true, and in what areas can a child have something to do with a pet?
From a very young age children come into contact with animals, usually first in the form of stuffed animals. Such a hug can be a real support for your child and can help to get used to new, perhaps scary situations.
The main role
Animals also play a role in booklets, stories and on television, sometimes as the protagonist, but also as the best friend of a child.
For older children, a real animal can also play a supporting role. For many children, their animal is someone they trust. Children share anger, fear, joy and secrets with their animals because an animal does not pass on anything and does not judge. Children indicate this themselves: from a study in a group of children between 3 and 13, 90% found it an advantage to have a pet. They told them that they found it instructive, happy, comfortable and received unconditional love from their animals.
More self-confidence and a better self-image
Animals can help a child to feel safe. Children with a pet appear to have more self-confidence and be more resilient. Especially in adolescents this seems to go up. The age at which children come into contact with a pet for the first time seems to make a difference for the self-image they have as adults.
Social skills are important, and animals can support this. For example, they are an easy conversation topic. Children like to play with classmates who have pets. In the classroom, animals seem to promote social interaction and reduce aggression.
Empathy is 'being able to perceive the emotions of another person'. Various studies have shown that children who have a strong bond with their pet show more empathy than children who do not have such a strong bond with their pet or do not have a pet.
Children also learn something about reproduction and birth, and about illness, accidents and death. The loss of a pet is often the first experience with death and with mourning. Children learn that death is something natural that belongs to life.
A pet seems to be able to promote language learning. The animal can give the child a reason to talk, for example to call it or to reward it, and can also form a listening audience. Sometimes animals are involved in certain teaching programs in order to improve the child's ability to concentrate or to motivate the child.
The problems of research
What can be a problem with this type of research is that not all factors can be checked. After all, one can not let one group of people take a pet and another group say not to do so. As a result, it is often difficult to exclude the influence of the type of family. We must therefore be careful not to draw any hasty conclusions. Nevertheless, there are many indications that a pet can be positive for the development of children.
The less fun sides
Apart from advantages, there may also be disadvantages of having a pet. Consider, for example, care if the animal is sick or the sadness if a pet dies or has to leave. Such a thing can weigh heavily for a child, although it also prevents children from being very down-to-earth. In addition, the mandatory daily care can give frustrations. Sometimes the expectations are not true of a pet, and that can cause disappointment.
Is it fun for the animal?
Of course it is not just about whether an animal is fun for your child. Whoever takes a pet must be able to ensure that the welfare and health of the animal are guaranteed. Not every animal is suitable for living with a toddler in the home, for example there are species that are too nervous or sensitive for that. On the website of the LICG you can find information about which animals could fit a young child.
Stick with it
Even if you have (or choose) an animal species that can fit young children, you still have to pay attention. Toddlers still have to learn to control their impulses and can not yet fully empathize with an animal. Their actions can also trigger unwanted, sometimes dangerous reactions in an animal. Toddlers and pets must therefore always be watched: never leave them alone. You will also have to teach your child what can and can not be done with the pet. Walk behind the animal, pull hair or ears or prick eyes: all that sort of thing belong to toddler behavior but you can never allow it! That is not only for the animal, but can also be dangerous for your toddler.
A toddler is not yet able to care for an animal. But if your child is a little older, you can let it help with the care of your pet. In order to take good care of a pet, a child must get a good example from his parents. Do not leave your child to his fate, but help to develop a sense of responsibility. Parents must always take responsibility and give good guidance, otherwise many benefits will be lost.
Also make sure that the tasks and expectations match the age and capacities of your child. If children are always held responsible for the pet, it can be too heavy for the child. It is of course not the intention that the child gets the feeling that something always does not do something good enough, or always gets turned upside down because of the pet.
A good balance
If you also want to purchase a pet, make sure you know what you are getting into. Does an animal fit in your family, and which animal would suit your child best? The right combination of animal and child is decisive for success!
As an adult, you always have the final responsibility for the animal, even if your children no longer find the pet interesting or do not take good care of it. Keep in mind that the animal will also cost you time and energy yourself and only take an animal if you really want to.