If you grew up with a pet that you adored, you probably already know how incredible it is to have an animal as a friend. Pets aren’t only our friends, they’re members of the family! And it turns out, growing up with a pet has rewards that go way beyond cuddles and an endless supply of enthusiastic greetings at the front door. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog, cat, bird, fish, reptile, guinea pig, or any other sort of critter, pets offer tons of benefits to kids!
In a review of 22 studies that examined the relationship between pets and children, the authors found that pets can have a positive impact on a child’s overall well-being. Growing up with pets is linked to higher self-esteem, social skills, and even cognitive development. Let’s take a closer look at why these domestic creatures are so special.
Why Growing Up with Pets Benefits Children
Research shows that pets support growth and development in children of all ages, but they deliver some unique benefits to toddlers. Here are a few key reasons to consider bringing a pet into your home.
One of the reasons parents and caregivers may (or may not!) want a pet, is the fact that they require care and attention. If you’re working full-time and raising an energetic toddler, the idea of grooming and feeding another living thing is daunting, to say the least! However, young children learn a lot about responsibility by doing simple tasks like filling up a pet’s bowl with water or sprinkling food into a fish tank. These small but significant tasks not only teach responsibility, but also boost a toddler’s self-confidence.
Enhances Social Skills and Verbal Skills
Pets can also act as a building block for social skills. This is especially true for toddlers who have a slow-to-warm-up temperament. While they may be hesitant to communicate with other humans, a pet can evoke expressive language and invite new vocabulary as they learn more about the animal.
As children learn to care for a pet, they’re also learning how to empathize. Lessons on feeding a pet at the right times, not disturbing them while they sleep, or why you never take away a pet’s favorite toy can help toddlers understand how to be kind, caring, and respectful. Caring for a pet also emphasizes Theory of Mind (ToM), which helps toddlers understand that others have thoughts and feelings that are different from theirs.
Offers Emotional Support
If there’s one demographic that can truly benefit from the emotional support of animals, it’s toddlers! Toddlers experience big emotions that can be complicated for them to process. When it comes to feeling angry, sad, or even embarrassed, the comfort of an animal can be an extraordinary source of support for a child. Pets are loyal, non-judgemental, and offer unconditional love. Pets can soothe toddlers during emotional moments, and help them learn to express, label, and understand their own emotions.
Supports Physical Health
Kids who grow up with pets tend to have better general health and are more likely to be active. Pets that require regular exercise help toddlers understand the value of movement throughout the day. In addition to exercise, a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that babies who grow up with pets – especially dogs – are less likely to develop colds and other respiratory infections by the time they’re toddlers.
There’s no question that owning a pet involves time, energy, patience, but with the help of an animal, toddlers can learn big life lessons with positive impacts on the rest of their lives.