As we think, this week, about all of the things small children can learn and experience just by hanging around at home, visions of cats and dogs, fish and guinea pigs, turtles and bunnies dance in our heads. In a word, pets.
Many experts say, and we have to agree, that having a household pet can be a wonderful learning and life experience for a small child. So, what is it about pets and kids?
Since the most important and fundamental thing for any small child's present and future happiness is a loving connection to others, a positive relationship with a pet can only add to a child's sense of belonging and contentment. In the best of circumstances, young children develop a very strong connection to the animals in their life. They enlist cats, dogs and even hamsters or turtles in all sorts of imaginative play and communicate with them in profound ways. (Watch any three-year-old pretend to read stories to her kitty-cat, and you will soon be convinced!)
Children also learn a great deal from living with animals. Pets teach about giving and receiving affection, play, body language and the power of simple companionship. (Not to mention zoology!) The responsibility that comes with owning a pet is also beneficial. Caring for a pet, or being in charge of certain aspects of its care, is a powerful experience for a child. In addition, pets can show kids what the life cycle is all about. Tending to a baby animal, or caring for an elderly, ailing one are important lessons in nurture. And helping a child process the grief of losing a beloved pet provides a painful, yet valuable lesson in emotional resiliency.
If you are thinking about getting a pet, or have questions about how to handle the relationship between your kids and the pet(s) you already have, the ASPCA Guide to Kids and Pets is a great resource. As the ASPCA wisely urges, a family's decision about whether to adopt a pet requires careful balancing of the needs and capabilities of the kids, the parents and the animal itself. Choose wisely! And enjoy.
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