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As fun and loving as pets are, they also have a job to do. In many households with children, pets serve as an outlet to teach responsibility to kids — as cute and cuddly as the family cat is, she still needs to have her litter box changed. But having a family pet can provide benefits to kids that stretch far beyond just responsibility (although that is an important thing for kids to learn!) There are a wealth of benefits that kids can get from taking care of their family dog, cat, bird … or even the family iguana.
Health Benefits of Pets Best Friends
“Pets make people feel good,” Brian Hare, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at Duke University said. “Their only job is to help people in stressful situations feel better. Many people seem to respond to dogs, cats, and other cuddly animals in a positive way.”
If a Duke professor says it, it must be true. Pets, especially dogs, are attuned to our moods and emotions — and this is especially true for children, whose mood swings can often give us vertigo. When kids come home from a stressful day at school, a few face licks from the dog or a sweet nuzzle from the cat are all it takes to have your child laughing and smiling again.
And the health benefits from pets aren’t limited to feelings; according to a 2004 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, it was found that having dogs or cats in the house can lower a child’s chance of developing animal-related allergies. And children with pets were also found to develop stronger immune systems on average.
Pets Teach Kids Responsibility
I know I said that there were plenty of benefits other than teaching responsibility, but that really is a big one! And pets give kids the opportunity to learn all sorts of positive behaviors, and not just at home — many schools incorporate class pets for their students’ benefits.
“Sometimes, school isn’t the place kids want to be,” sixth-grade teacher Kelly Rosendahl of an Illinois Junior High School told the New Jersey Herald. “Having pets in the classroom gets them excited about coming to class.”
Rosendahl, who uses a pair of guinea pig in her classroom due to their mild temperament, said they can be very beneficial to stressed-out kids.
“They let kids hold them,” Rosendahl said.” If kids are having a hard day, they can sit in a bean bag chair, hold an animal and calm down.”
Class pets are used as an opportunity to teach responsibility — as students need to remember to feed the pets, change bedding and play with them. This rolls over into pet ownership, as constantly being aware of a dog that needs to be walked or a cat that needs to be fed helps children to be more responsible and consistent.
Teachers also incorporate their animals in regular learning scenarios, as having a furry friend makes learning a much more fun experience.
“A lot of kids shut down for math,” Jen Swiderski, another sixth-grade teacher told the Herald. “But if I can tie the class bunny into a word problem, they want to answer it.”
Taking Care of a Pet
A big reservation that many parents may have when getting a pet is all of the little chores that come with them. Outsourcing these things, like walking the dog, changing the kitty litter, or even feeding the fish, can help with responsibility, yes, but they can also give your kids a feeling of family participation, as they are contributing to the daily household process.
There are also great social benefits to having animals and taking them out. Walking a dog is sure to bring attention from fellow dog-walkers and passersby. This communication from neighbors is not only beneficial for your dog but can help your child to be much more conversational as they get used to talking with more and more people.
And then there is the obvious benefit of exercise: what better way to get your kids to be active than to send them outside to run around with a wound-up pup?
Pets Are Fun Best Friends for Kids
At the end of the day, the best benefit pets can bring kids is the relationship that they will share, and the impact the pet will have on their emotional well-being. Which, as many parents will tell you, is the most important thing.
The family dog or cat, and yes, even the family iguana, can be some of the best friends your kid will have. The special bond between a child and their pet is something that should be encouraged — the ability to unconditionally love something is a lesson that kids should learn as early as possible. And the benefits of being unconditionally loved by their pet is a priceless treasure that kids will remember for the rest of their lives.