Family pets teach children a wide range of responsibilities, including lessons in compassion and respecting life. Approximately 33 percent of American households owned at least one cat and 39 percent of families owned a dog, according to information collected in 2012 by the American Pet Products Association. Although one family member might take the majority of the pet care responsibilities, rewarding pet ownership involves the entire family, including children, in the care of the animals.
Pets teach kids how to supervise an animal and how to share supervision duties with other family members. Most children have intense interest in caring for an animal for several days after the pet arrives home, but long-term animal care requires the family to work as a team in the joint effort. Creating a schedule that requires all family members to take a part in the pet care teaches children how to accept supervision responsibility for specific care duties such as walking or feeding the animal.
Animal care demands routines for feeding and care, and pets require children to follow a daily routine and a calendar schedule for long-term care that involves major grooming and supplying medical care. Children learn how to care for living things, including the need for daily fresh food and water. Children also develop the skills to determine when other care, such as litter box changes or cage cleanings, need done.
Animals need physical health monitoring and kids learn the importance of human health responsibilities by caring for pets. The duties of measuring pet food, supplying daily water and offering vitamins and supplements to animals introduces children to the concepts of menu planning, proper hydration and a healthy diet. In 2012, the ASPCA reported that close to 80 percent of pet dogs and cats are neutered or spayed, and that this procedure helps teach children the importance in controlling the overall pet population. In 2012, approximately 25 percent of dog and cat pets living with a family had been adopted from local animal shelters, and this pet-selection process models responsible animal ownership and pet treatment for children.
Emotions and Behaviors
Supervising animals helps children also understand dealing with human emotions and behavior cycles. Many pets, including cats and dogs, display emotions similar to humans and children need to recognize the signals when pets become frustrated or angry to avoid scratches or bites. Some animals, such as hamsters, develop regular behavior cycles that differ from normal human sleep cycles. Children given the responsibility to care for animals must learn how to identify these cycles and deal with behavior patterns that might include nighttime play and daytime sleep and how to accommodate these differences from the child's own sleep and play schedules.
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Facts for Families -- Pets and Children
- Doris Day Animal Foundation: The Empathy Connection -- Creating Caring Communities Through the Human-Animal Relationship
- Scholastic Parents: Animals Make Good Teachers
- Akita Rescue Mid-Atlantic: Caring for a Dog Teaches Kids Responsibility
- House Rabbit Society: FAQ -- Children and Rabbits
- Discover Magazine; A Psychological Guide to Your Dog’s Dreams, Emotions, Interests, and Tail-wagging Body Language; Stanley Coren
- Petcentric: Do Cats Feel Love?
- ASPCA: Pet Statistics
- Teaching Tolerance: Pets Make Great Teachers of Compassion
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