The Benefits of Pets for Kids

From Parents Magazine

As many as 90 percent of all kids live with a pet at some point during their childhood, says Gail F. Melson, Ph.D., author of Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children. Most kids love pets—and for good reason. Creatures large and small teach, delight and offer a special kind of companionship. 

Thinking about adding an animal to your household? Here are a few reasons to let the fur fly in your home.

Pets can provide comfort.

Melson asked a group of 5-year-old pet owners what they did when they felt sad, angry or afraid. More than 40 percent spontaneously mentioned turning to their pets. “Kids who get support from their animal companions were rated by their parents as less anxious and withdrawn,” she says.

Pets can encourage nurturing.

Melson began studying the impact of pets in order to learn how human beings develop the ability to care for others. “Nurturing isn’t a quality that suddenly appears in adulthood when we need it,” she says. “People need a way to practice being caregivers when they’re young.” One solution? Animals! Pets provide children with a wonderful opportunity to practice nurturing and caring for other living things.

Pets can help with learning.

Educators have long known that bringing therapy animals into schools helps developmentally challenged kids learn. Now they are finding that all children can benefit from the presence of a nonjudgmental pal with paws. In one study, children were asked to read in front of a peer, an adult and a dog. Researchers monitored their stress levels and found that kids were most relaxed around the animal, not the humans. “If you’re struggling to read and someone says, ‘Time to pick up your book and work,’ that’s not a very attractive offer,” says Mary Renck Jalongo, Ph.D., author of The World of Children and Their Companion Animals. “Curling up with a dog or cat, on the other hand, is a lot more appealing.”

Pets can help teach responsibility.

Asking your children to help with the feeding, cleaning or walking of a pet is a great way to teach responsibility. Start by giving them one small age-appropriate task per week and encourage them to see how their actions benefit your pet. You could ask your toddler to help you pick up Buster’s toys, or ask your school-aged son to help you fill food and water dishes. As kids get older, ask them to take on additional tasks.

Pets can build family bonds.

One of the biggest benefits of having pets is often unexpected, even for parents who grew up around animals: they can help families grow stronger and closer. A pet is often the focus of activities that families do together. Everyone takes the dog for a walk, or shares in grooming and feeding and play. Spending time like this can help slow the hectic pace of life and allow you and your kids to enjoy sharing these animal-focused moments with each other.

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