If you grew up with a family pet, or are currently a pet parent, you'll know just how special that bond between a family and their animals can be. Having a pet during childhood can help little ones to fathom the concept of responsibility, as well as providing fond memories and a deep feeling of love that will last well into adulthood.
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Lecturer Dr. Sara Griffin is quick to extol the virtues that are created by a child having a pet: "Children learn about responsible pet ownership by observing their parents," she told Consumer Affairs. "Positive pet interactions with children can help develop non-verbal communication skills, compassion, and empathy in children."
Children who grow up with pets often have higher levels of self-awareness and confidence. If you think that pet parenting mainly benefits children, think again. According to Dr. Griffin, the introduction of a family pet can strengthen the family bond, encourage adults and children to spend time together, and create quality time that will be enjoyed by all. Pets offer comfort and unconditional love, as well as emotional support and stability, while the love that we give back can in turn enrich our pets' lives.
However, your role as a pet parent and adult should be taken seriously, says Dr. Griffin. "Parental involvement is necessary for any child learning to care for a pet. A child who learns to care for a pet may learn important lessons, such as how to treat people and animals with kindness, patience, and respect."
If you're thinking about introducing a pet to your family, please consider the size of your home and backyard, the time you have to dedicate to a pet, and the many costs associated with keeping an animal. Remember that puppies and kittens don't stay tiny for long, and that there's a likelihood you as the adult will be shouldering the responsibility of looking after an animal – regardless of how keen your children are to care for the pet at first. There are dozens of shelter animals out there in desperate need of a fresh start, so please seek out your nearest organization when you're ready to adopt.