Owning pets is unlike any other life experience.
It’s one thing to catch dragonflies, ladybugs or worms (if you’re my kids and like that sort of thing!). It’s totally different to experience the amazing world that is owning and caring for your very own pet. Someone who depends on you for food, shelter, safety and companionship.
Dogs, cats, reptiles, birds, amphibians or fish – any breed or species will do for your child. All have unique attributes that will stick with your child for their whole lives.
Animals are amazing creatures and can teach our children so much. Children can learn everything from responsibility and time-management to social skills and nature through pet ownership.
Having a pet in your home is certainly a big decision, though, don’t forget. It requires a lot more planning when your family will be away for an extended period of time or how they’ll be taken care of if both parents work outside the home during the week.
Getting a pet is definitely not a decision to be made lightly but it is for sure one that will leave a lasting impact on your family and especially your child.
When I think back to my childhood, I can remember each and every pet we had. My mom loved animals as much as I do, if not more, and we had nearly every species in our house.
At one point, we had two beautiful birds -a blue front amazon, an orange-crested cockatoo- a rat, two guinea pigs, a German Shepherd, and a beagle. Earlier in my childhood, my mom had two ferrets, an iguana in a three-story enclosure and two dogs.
Life with animals has been my normal since I was a baby and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As a grown adult with three kids of my own, now, I couldn’t wait to share the experiences of pet ownership with my own children.
When my son earned his first belt ranking in Martial Arts, we let him pick out a baby bearded dragon. He was over the moon, as he’d always had a special bond with our dog, Mya, and we really felt he’d do great with a pet of his own.
Fast forward nearly two years later and we now have two bearded dragons, a leopard gecko, a dachshund/lab mix and a Golden Doodle. These animals continue to amaze us with their unique personalities and love for our children.
Five Lessons Children Learn from Having a Pet
So, what can owning a pet teach a child? Let’s dive in:
Though I had siblings, sometimes I just wanted to be in my room without other humans around.
During those times, I remember taking out one or both of my guinea pigs to unwind with on my bedspread or on the floor of my room. They provided a “getaway” from whatever it was I felt “stressed” about – from a child’s perspective!
My feelings of being mad or sad would dissipate as I sat there and watched them happily roam my room and explore, making their goofy sounding “squeaks” as they went about.
With them, I never truly felt alone. It was a great sense of companionship and friendship created with my furry little friends.
This has been a big one with my son, who’s seven and has ADHD. It’s especially hard for him to think about other people, their feelings and how his actions impact others.
It’s not that he’s selfish, it’s just that his brain cannot put him in “other people’s shoes” and think about how they feel.
So on the mornings when he would forget to give his bearded dragon lettuce, we’d have a talk about how he would feel if we forgot to give him a snack in his lunchbox or pack his water bottle for school.
He would mention how sad he’d feel- as if we’d forgotten him- and how hungry/thirsty he’d be without those items. We’d use that as a learning opportunity to ask him how he thinks his pet feels, then, without his morning salad.
He then felt terrible, rushing to get his pet everything he needed and apologizing to him on the way.
Incredibly, teaching empathy using this situation was remarkably easy. My son almost never forgets to feed his pet now.
Teaching a child time-management skills is as difficult as it sounds.
Consider how many adults cannot manage their time effectively – now we need to teach our kids?
Talking to my son and now our daughter about the time needed to clean their pets’ enclosure or feed them before school turned out to be huge steps in managing time effectively.
My son, though he couldn’t quite tell time yet, knew when he looked at the clock that we left the house every day at 7:50 am. He also knew that everyone needed to be dressed and ready to walk out the door at 7:40 am (yes, I try to keep us on time as much as possible!).
Therefore, he knew if he finished his breakfast at 7:20 am, he could still have plenty of time to run upstairs to change his clothes and then come back down and fix his pet his morning salad.
Further, my son also feeds our dogs at night. He knows if he forgets, he loses iPad or television time, so he makes a point to take care of his responsibility before he sits down to entertain himself. It’s not total time-management, but it’s a start!
Somewhat remarkably, owning a pet has made my otherwise shy and timid seven-year-old outgoing.
He wants to tell everyone about his bearded dragon, which usually leads to his unique name (from a video game – Kirby) and what activities he likes to do with his pet. He will also chat up another dog owner at the pet store to tell them about his own two dogs and what they’re like.
His pets give him an opening to start a conversation with strangers or other kids who generally take quite an interest in a young kid owning a reptile!
Of course, having a pet teaches a child responsibility above all else. They are now responsible for the life of another being, which isn’t something to be taken lightly, either by parent or child.
They are “in charge” of this animal and its well-being and overall happiness, which is an incredible life skill to teach a child. Owning a pet helps to develop a sense of responsibility and pride for taking care of an animal that brings them pleasure!
Watching a child own and care for a pet is joyous for people like me who have grown up with pets of their own and genuinely love animals.
Watching my children play with our dogs or watch TV with their lizards on their shoulders always makes me smile, knowing that their closest friends at this stage in life are their pets.
They continue learning from them and I know that these will be some of their fondest memories when they grow older, too!