5 Life Lessons Kids Can Learn from Pets
If you have kids, be prepared. For a pet, that is. Every parent of a young child knows that at some point their child will pine for a pet of their own. While that pet will most often be a dog or cat, for a child, any pet -- whether finned, feathered or on all fours -- will provide friendship and teach important life lessons.
In researching the top five lessons kids learn from their pets, I sought out the preeminent authorities in the field… my nephews and friends’ children.
Lesson 1 – Responsibility
“Even though I don’t really like doing it, I have to clean my cat TB’s litter box every day,” said nine-year-old Janette Glaser of Lincoln, Nebraska. “And I have to make sure he has food and clean water too. It’s a lot of work, but TB relies on me to take care of him.”
According to American Pet Product Association’s (APPA) 2011-12 National Pet Owners Survey, 58 percent of respondents owning small animals said a key benefit of owning their pet is that their children become more responsible. APPA’s President Bob Vetere explained, "There are so many joys and benefits pets of all types bring to our lives, and they truly help instill responsibility among children—from ensuring they have plenty of food and water to helping them receive daily exercise and play.”
Lesson 2 – Communication and Empathy
“Sometimes I wonder how my dog Jake feels, but then sometimes I can tell how exactly what he is thinking,” said 10-year-old Ethan Lavelle of Seward, Nebraska about his Jack Russell Terrier. “I can tell how happy he is by how fast he wags his tail and sometimes when he is sad or worried his ears go flat.”
Children learn the subtle cues their pets give them to indicate their feelings, a lesson they can later apply to human interaction because they are more accustomed to watching for body language. Children who interact with animals also often become curious about the emotions their pets feel. This curiosity often extends itself to the lifelong skill of empathy – feeling the feelings of others, knowing when someone is uncomfortable, and caring enough to change your behavior so that the other person becomes more comfortable.
Lesson 3 – Commitment and Dedication
"You really have to commit yourself to taking care of a pet,” explained my 11-year-old nephew Kaden Rotunda of Parker, Colorado, when asked about what he has learned from taking care of his pet turtle Blossom. “It's not that easy because you have to clean their cage, exercise it and feed it every day."
Giving children age-appropriate chores related to feeding, grooming and cleaning up after the family pet helps them understand what it means to be dependable and conscientious. Taking care of a pet teaches children the importance of being reliable, since the pet is counting on them to provide what they need.
Lesson 4 – Respect for Life
Kaden’s 9-year-old brother Jett Rotunda, takes a more serious view of the care of his frilled dragon, Muchacho. "I learned that sometimes pets have to die. So I take better care of them because I know I won't have them forever.”
Life is short. And unfortunately the life span for most house pets is even shorter. Seeing a pet grow older and eventually die can be traumatic for a child, but it can also help them learn to appreciate life more and live life “in the now.”
Lesson 5 – Confidence and Unconditional Love
“My dog Daisy loves me even if I am angry and yell at her,” said 7-year-old Gracie Darensburg of San Antonio, Texas. “Luckily she always forgives me and makes me feel better.”
Children go through life under constant evaluation—for their behavior, grades and athletic performance. Pets have no such expectations and are just delighted that the child is with them, no judging or rating involved. They love us unconditionally, just as we are, and do not expect us to change. This unconditional and unlimited affection makes children feel special and can instantaneously improve a child’s self-worth and increase their self-confidence.
There is no doubt that pets teach children—and adults—life lessons that we might not pick up as quickly or easily somewhere else.
What lessons have pets taught your children?