There are many benefits to owning a pet. Pets teach children valuable life lessons like responsibility, trust, compassion, respect and patience. While pets offer a lot of benefits to kids, kids also have a lot to offer the pet in your family as well. Both kids and pets enjoy high energy play as well as having a cuddle buddy during nap time.
If your child asks for a pet, talk with them about responsibility and the permanency of owning a pet. When the “newness” wears off or the puppy/kitten gets older, will they still want to care for the animal? Have they expressed a consistent desire for a pet and understand it will need daily care up and above play time?
Set up and discuss what your child’s pet responsibilities will be ahead of time. Remember, no matter how committed they are at the time of getting a pet, you will have to consider yourself as the backup plan if and when they cannot or will not continue to care for the pet.
One of the major reasons, and an important life skill, for owning a pet is to teach responsibility. Pets require food, water and love. Many, some more than others, require exercise. They also require grooming (brushing develops large muscles of the arm) and bathroom time (walking the dog develops large muscles of your child’s legs and is good for the development of their heart, brain and lungs).
Children over 5 years old can have developmentally appropriate responsibilities in regards to the care of the pet. Children under the age of 4 should be monitored with pets at all times, and children under the age of 10 should not be expected to take care of a dog or cat completely on their own.
A second skill children learn is trust. A pet offers unconditional support when a child (or anyone) is sad, angry or upset. They can teach your child to trust the pet, themselves and build trust in other relationships as well.