Almost every kiddo wants to cuddle a cute puppy or purring kitten, but being an animal lover is more than simply caring for a family pet. Teaching little ones to appreciate and love animals is beneficial for social and emotional growth, and experts agree that when kids are animal lovers, they have increased compassion and empathy and a stronger sense of responsibility. Here are five reasons you should teach your kids to appreciate their furry friends.
Being an Animal Lover Builds Empathy
Kids who are compassionate toward animals tend to be more sensitive and caring. Patty Born Selly, Executive Director of the National Center for STEM Elementary Education at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, believes children who are caring toward animals develop stronger empathy with people. She also notes that "As children have experiences with animals, they learn about differences and similarities and needs (such as for food, shelter, water and space)," which can also lead to more positive classroom relationships and peer interactions.
Being an Animal Lover Increases Self-Confidence
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, kids that are raised to love animals will see an increase in their self-esteem. When kiddos develop positive feelings about animals, such as their pets, they become more self-confident. In addition, "Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy."
Being an Animal Lover Fosters Leadership in Kids
Whether it’s a dog or a rabbit, when kids are asked to take care of their animals, they become a significant part of that animal’s life. According to Sara McCarty, Editor of Run Wild My Child, these tasks help kids take responsibility and ownership. "Aside from building great memories, having a pet in the house or growing up around animals serves some pretty incredible purposes when it comes to the emotional development and even physical health of kids," said McCarty. For example, Fido relies on your little one to give him water or play fetch. All those care-taking skills that require a child to provide for someone else help to make strong leaders.
Being an Animal Lover Helps Kids Become Nurturers
Nurturing and caring for others is a skill that’s learned and needs to be practiced. Kids love to be helpers, so taking care of animals is a great way to nurture that instinct and practice the art of caring. According to Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian with VetStreet, as kids become more intuitive and nurturing toward animals, they become more compassionate and generous. "As a veterinarian and lifelong animal lover, I think one of the most important things you can do for your children or grandchildren (or, really, any child you know!) is to nurture a love of animals," said Becker. He believes and has seen in his many years working with kids and pets, that as kids grow older, they want to help animals, and as they do, they practice compassion and generosity. Eventually, kids will start using those emotions and characteristics toward caring for younger siblings, other kids and peers. "If you doubt me about how much children want to help, start asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. A veterinarian is a very, very common answer!"
Being an Animal Lover Helps Kids Stay Healthy
Not only do kids who love animals develop social and emotional skills, but they also tend to be healthier. According to David Meyer, founder of Adopt-a-Pet, playing with dogs lowers blood pressure, keeps kids active and helps promote fitness by getting little ones outside in nature. Additionally, Dr. Ruth MacPete, a veterinarian with Pet Health Network, mentions a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison that found kids who regularly interact with pets have less risk of developing common allergies and asthma. "Infants that grow up with pets are less likely to develop asthma and allergies," said MacPete. "[The study] evaluated blood samples from infants after birth and then on their first birthday to look for changes in their immune system or evidence of allergic reactions. The research supported previous studies that have shown that allergies, eczema and asthma occur less frequently in children with pets." She also notes that animals have been proven to help with stress, anxiety, depression, autism, ADD and other psychological issues.
—Leah R. Singer