Pets can play an important role in people’s lives and they are often referred to as ‘one of the family’. As well as providing a constant source of enjoyment, friendship and fun, many pets thrive in a family and household environment.
Many parents recognize the benefits of growing up with a family pet, especially if they themselves have had successful and close relationships with animals as children. Parents have traditionally encouraged children to respect and care for animals in the belief that this would enable children to become more caring, compassionate and responsible.
There’s an increasing wealth of research proving that pet ownership has considerable educational and therapeutic benefits for children. Studies demonstrate children who interact with animals have higher levels of self esteem, have greater empathy and better social skills. We have found this to be true not only for RD, but for us as parents as well.
Some years ago, we announced that we had a new family member. This was the first ragdoll cat we had ever owned – and a dream come true for us. RD fell in love with Rocky, so did my husband, who was against the idea at first. Soon enough, my husband suggested we get another ragdoll as Rocky’s companion, and so Darla was added to our family. The year after, we welcome our first litter which I blogged about in Kittens In the House! That year was 2014, and this year (2015), we had our second litter.
Because of these two litters we’ve had, RD has had a hand in taking care of the kittens. We have also discovered that there are certain benefits we observed when kids grow up with pets, and these are the following:
1. Kids learn the responsibility and cost of caring for pets.
Learning to care for a pet is a great lesson in responsibility. When a family raises a pet in the house, the kids learn about pet nutrition, how to feed them properly, how to take care of baby animals, giving them the proper environment to grow in, and appreciate the cost that comes with it. RD comes with me to our cats’ regular vet visits, and has learned that taking of animals is not cheap and not easy, as well. Our nurturing example will also teach our children to be kind and gentle to these helpless creatures.
In fact, we give RD a lot of credit for helping us raise Tiny who was the runt of the first litter and was repeatedly shoved away by his siblings. RD took it upon himself to make sure that Tiny got his own share of mom’s milk, and even lost sleep to see to it that he was able to nurse at even the wee hours of the night. Tiny has since grown to a big boy, so much so, that his name has become an irony. As for RD, he is mighty proud of the good job he’s done with Tiny, he prides himself on being a ragdoll cat expert!
2. Kids will learn how to empathize.
Caring for a pet that is so dependent on you teaches empathy. A child who takes care of a pet at home learns to read his pet’s needs: is he hungry? Maybe the pet is scared of the wind, rain or thunder and needs to be comforted. RD is so attuned to our cats’ feelings that this spills over to other animals or even people he sees on the news or on tv that are in need of help. The compassion he shows towards these creatures and to people is one of the things we see will help him feel and show love towards those around him. Moreover, studies have also shown that empathy is the one skill that can be taught and a skill that bullies often lack, and that is the one thing we know RD will never do to any animal or anyone. Children who also experience caring for pets are more emotionally mature than children who have not experienced it.
3. Kids learn civic considerations and social responsibility.
Owning a pet gives a child an awareness for what animals are suited as pets, laws governing the care of animals, and our responsibilities as pet owners and everything concerned with pet welfare awareness. RD has learned what attitudes are and are not acceptable towards animals. Case in point, we have a relative whose car was damaged when a cat chose to take refuge under the hood of his car, and got chewed up by the engine when the car was turned on. This relative vowed to have every cat or kitten shot whenever one was seen near their house. When RD read about this, he shook his head and commented, “That’s cruel. It’s not the cat’s fault. He was just probably looking for a warm place to stay in. His sons are going to end up like him – cruel to cats.” Such a harsh observation from a young kid, but basically true.
4. Kids have a natural de-stresser when the going gets though.
Studies have shown that a cat’s purr speeds up the healing of bone or muscle injuries. Apart from this, having a cat in the house also does the following:
- lowers stress levels
- reduces anxiety
- improves immunity to asthma and allergic reactions
- improves ones mood
In the case of RD, being a homeschooled child, we’ve found that the presence of our cats provides a welcome distraction from the humdrum of his classes, and gives him something to look forward to during break times. Even when we have had a particularly tiring day, the thought of playing with the cats after a stressful project takes away the pressure and fatigue of those times. We’ve noticed a particular drop in the stress he experiences when he is tackling a difficult subject when he is petting a cat on his lap, or when one of our cats is asleep on his work desk, it helps a lot. And good news! Fewer sick days!
5. Kids learn across subject matters.
Learning zoology is a great learning opportunity when one owns a pet. At the most basic level, kids can learn about the characteristics of the pets they own. When RD has a question about the behavior of our cats or dogs, it is a learning opportunity that we don’t take lightly. We immediately go over facts in Google or any of the books he owns about animals. As a parent, we can also take this curiosity for our children to learn more about organ systems, such as an animal’s respiratory system, circulatory system, skeletal system, nervous system, reproductive system, and digestive system. These can then taken a step further by comparing animal systems to that of the human anatomy and see the differences that exist between animals and humans. As well, pets provide lessons about life: reproduction, birth, illness, accidents, death and grief.
6. Pets boosts a child’s self-esteem.
Why, you ask? Probably because they have a four-legged (or two-legged) creature to love who loves them right back, and a friend to talk to and play with when no one else is around.Studies show that having a pet can even boost a child’s academic skills. What’s more, reading aloud to a loyal (and non-judgmental) companion, like a cat or dog, can turn a reluctant reader into a self-confident one.
7. Owning a pet makes for lasting memories.
When we are away from home for awhile, one of the things RD looks forward to, is when we arrive home and our cats are at the door to meet us. Ragdoll cats are one of those cat breeds that behave like dogs by meeting their owners at the door when they arrive. As soon as the car rolls into the gate, RD will exclaim, “Kitties! I’ve missed them! I’m so excited to see them!”
Even our adult children, when they plan to come home, will always talk about how excited they are to see the cats or kittens. Some of our kids’ well-loved memories are of the times they’ve spent playing and cuddling with our cats. And because cats live for 15 years or more if cared for properly, our children have gained themselves long-lasting friendships!