There are many benefits to children having pets. To a child, having a pet is a lot of fun. As a parent, I know that children learn many life lessons by having pets.
Having a pet teaches a child responsibility. They must take care of that pet every day. Depending on the kind of pet they have, the daily responsibilities can range from simply providing food and fresh water to cleaning a cage or litter box, making sure the pet gets enough exercise, brushing, bathing, and more. A child learns that these daily responsibilities of taking care of a pet must be done whether the child feels like it or not and whether it’s convenient or not. In my household, taking care of the pets comes before things my daughter wants to do or places she wants to go. If this is met with any grumbling or complaining, I always say, “If you can’t take good care of your pets, then you can’t keep them.” This instruction is always heeded because she knows that it’s her responsibility to take care of her pets.
Children learn the importance of dependability when they have a pet. Pets depend on their owners every day to take care of them and meet their needs. Any pet a child has will depend on them to give them food and water every day. A cat will depend on them to clean the litter box. A dog will depend on them to be let outside or taken for a walk. A hamster, bird, or other small pet will depend on them to keep the cage clean. Since pets are unable to do these things for themselves, children learn that it’s important for their pets to be able to depend on them to meet their daily needs. My daughter knows that she has to make sure her parakeets have food and fresh water every morning and that she must check to see if the hamster needs anything before she can go about her day. She understands that her pets are unable to get these things for themselves and that if she doesn’t take care of their daily needs, they could get sick or die.
A Respect for Living Creatures
It’s important for children to have a respect for living creatures and having a pet definitely teaches them that. A child will quickly learn that they can’t pull the the cat’s ears unless the want to be hissed at and scratched or that they can’t squeeze the guinea pig unless they want to get bit. A frightening growl will tell a child that they shouldn’t pull the dog’s tail and an angry thump and kick will tell them not to poke the bunny’s nose. My younger daughter quickly learned that you can’t force the cat to go to bed with you by holding him down unless you want to face the wrath of fangs and claws. Obviously instructing a child to be gentle with their pet and to not hurt animals is important, but these little incidences will reinforce the fact that they need to respect living creatures and treat them kindly.
The Miracle of Life
A beautiful life lesson that children can learn by having pets is the miracle of life. Both of my daughters first experienced this when we took in a young, stray cat one winter when my older daughter still lived at home. Shortly after we decided to bring the cat in before it got too cold, she blessed us with a litter of five kittens. We were there for the entire birthing process, which was good because she was a first time mother and didn’t know exactly what to do. We helped wash off the kittens with warm cloths and even saved the life of one kitten that wasn’t breathing by cleaning and stimulating it. My daughters were devastated when they thought the kitten wouldn’t survive and elated when it started to wriggle and breathe. The whole experience left a lasting impression on my girls that I know they will always carry with them for the rest of their lives.
My younger daughter now has a pair of parakeets that have laid two clutches of eggs and raised eight babies. My daughter loves to keep track of when the eggs are laid and when each baby hatches. She was amazed by how pink, blind, naked, and ugly they are when the first one hatched and awestruck with how quickly they grow and leave the nesting box. She knows how gentle you have to be with a delicate baby bird and how patient you have to be when hand-taming an older baby that wants to try to bite your finger off.
Death and Mourning
An unpleasant lesson that no one really wants to learn, but unfortunately is an inevitable part of life, is that of death and mourning. Having a pet eventually means you will deal with the death of that pet. My daughters have had a few experiences with this. It is always difficult, but with time they always get past it. Though death and mourning is the most difficult part of having a pet, it is a valuable life lesson. Children learn that life continues after the death of a beloved pet and that you can move on to love again.
My younger daughter dealt with the death of her hamster earlier this year. She found the hamster dead when she went to check on it before she went to bed. She was so upset, that I helped her bury it that night and though I tried to console her, she went to bed in tears. The next day I had to put the cage out in the garage because she couldn’t handle looking at it empty. After a couple of months, she was ready for a new hamster, so we went to the pet store to buy one and we still have him.
All of the life lessons learned from having a pet have lasting benefits. Being responsible and dependable, respecting living creatures, loving life, and being able to move on after death add strength to the quality of a child’s character that can stay with them for the rest of their life.
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