For some couples, the first addition to their family is a pet. These same couples might later add children to their family.
If you're a parent who doesn't have a pet, taking on the responsibility of having one may seem overwhelming. Your concerns likely include having the time, patience and resources to care for it. The stress of this additional responsibility may overshadow the benefits for you at this time in your life.
But having a family pet can have more benefits than you may realize. Here are some of the positive effects having a pet can have for your child.
1. Taking care of a pet provides an opportunity to show responsibility. When kids can successfully complete tasks at home — like caring for a pet — they show improved confidence. Care-taking tasks can be individualized for kids of almost any age. For example, a 5-year-old may be too young to take the pet outside, but isn’t too young to fill the food bowl.
2. Caring for a pet can teach children empathy. Your child learns to read their pet's needs. Is he hungry? Does he need to go outside? Maybe the pet is afraid of loud noises, such as fireworks, and needs to be comforted. Research shows that children who have empathy are much less likely to bully others, so this is an important benefit.
3. Children typically experience unconditional love and acceptance from their pets, whereas they do not always get that from people. Pets are nonjudgmental, loving and comforting. A pet can be a much needed loyal companion, especially if your child has challenges with friends or relationships.
4. Pets can help increase children’s verbal skills. You've likely heard toddlers who are still learning to talk attempting to talk with pets. Pets not only provide a sense of companionship, but also an opportunity to develop language skills. A pet's presence alone provides a stimulus that is conducive to your child talking.
5. Pets often provide opportunities for children to engage in physical activity, exercise and play. These type of activities lead to children experiencing less stress.
If these benefits are making you reconsider the addition of a pet to your household, please carefully consider the commitment a pet will take. You must also consider your lifestyle to ensure the pet you get is the best fit for your whole family. Ultimately, as a parent, you are responsible for ensuring that pet ownership is a positive experience for the entire family.