Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ready, Set, Pet! The Benefits of Childhood Pet Ownership

When my big sister and I started begging for a pet, my parents immediately said no. My sister had just been diagnosed with a severe behavioral disorder, and there was just no way that they could handle a pet on top of working with her! However, my sister's therapist suggested that a pet might actually be just what she needed. After 6 months of debating it, my parents decided to try. We picked out a dog, who we named Chubby. Chubby turned out to be the best medicine anyone could have hoped for.

Not every child has behavior problems, but even typically developing children can benefit from animal interaction. Many studies have shown benefits to children who own pets. These include:

  • Teaching responsibility
  • Increasing empathy, communication, and social skills
  • Lowering risk of developing allergies
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Lowering risk of obesity and heart disease

  • Reducing stress for all members of the family
  • Improving functioning for people with autism and mental illness
  • Reducing family conflict, and much, much more.
In short, pets can do amazing things for you and your children!

Sometimes, however, pets just aren't an option. If the kids have been begging for a pet but you recognize that your family's situation will not allow for one, be up front about the reasons with your children. This is an opportunity to teach them how to deal with disappointment.

If you and your family decide you could benefit from a pet, here are a few tips for making the decision.

  • First, consider the logistics: size, age, price, and care level of the pet, and age, health, size, and temperament of the people in your home.
  • Hold a family meeting to discuss the options. Include everyone, especially your children, in the process. Involvement in family decision making is important for the development of a child's own decision making abilities.
  • Take preferences into account, but also make sure that everyone understands your family’s limitations, options, and expectations.
  • Visit a shelter together to let you children see how animals behave, and which kinds they prefer.
  • You can also try making it a choice between options you've already decided are acceptable for your situation. Sometimes it's easier to give your children the final choice rather than dealing with tantrums when you have to veto an idea. (I asked my mother several times for an alligator before we decided on Chubby.)

My sister today and her 'nontraditional pet,' RC
For my family, getting a pet was (literally) just what the doctor ordered, and my sister is a lot better off for it today. Throughout our childhood, my parents made sure we all had animal interaction, and the therapeutic benefits of animals helped my sister transition off her medications. Today, she's even made training animals a part of her career.

In the end, only you and your family can decide if and what kind of a pet is right for your situation. If you do decide to get a pet, have fun and always remember to check your local shelters first!

What experiences have you or your family had with the positive benefits of pets? Let us know in the comments!

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