Should young children have pets? – Part 1

Young children benefit enormously from having a pet. Obviously, they need to be of an age where they understand the difference between caring for a pet and smothering it, or over doing the loving and playing but even very young children can get enormous pleasure out of pet ownership.

Children of about 4 or 5 are starting to see the world from others’ perspectives. Until then their lives have been a massive learning curve, learning how to stay warm ,get fed, who is who, who loves and cares for them – theirs is a largely self absorbed existence. However, a little later on, they are able to understand the world from others’ perspectives. How it feels when they are rude or hurt someone or something? How they can give love and care and get pleasure from doing so.

Having a pet allows them to develop a number of skills. Routine – knowing their pet needs care, walks, grooming and feeding. Understanding how their actions have a direct affect on another being – whether they are kind, committed and caring will affect their relationship with their pet.

Sometimes, whether the pet survives will depend on the child’s ability to care for it and seek help when they need it. Fish are the classic example and even older children may lose their goldfish if they allow the tank to become foggy, dirty or they forget to feed and clean them.

Children also learn that from work comes pleasure – if they care for their pet, the pet will reward with with affection or interest. One child who had tremendous difficulties at school making friends, was given some African Land Snails – not the kind of thing you think might inspire behavioral improvement but having something depend on him, that he could watch grow and that with his care would thrive, made such a difference.

He had read that only when African Land Snails were well cared for and in the perfect environment would they lay eggs, so the day the first batch was found, tucked away in the compost in the snail tank, was a day the child felt he had really achieved – he had been rewarded for his care by the snails showing they were happy. Snails are not the most affectionate of beasts but a positive reward was achieved.

Other animals like cats and dogs will reward care more openly. They will form a bond with children who care for them and know who to go to for feeds, walks and general loving so children get tangible and immediate rewards for their acts of caring.

Pets are also great for extending the number of things children need to consider. They cannot just up sticks and go play if they have promised to walk the dog. They need to clean the fish tank regularly, they need to brush the horse or clean the rabbit cage. Pets will make demands and the child learns to pre-empt these demands before things go wrong so it increases their capacity to think outside their own needs.

The benefits of pets – whether big or small are endless and children who grow up with pets are often the best all round adults.

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