I believe that every child should have the opportunity of owning a pet as they mature into adulthood. This topic divides many parents, as they worry about the work that a child’s pet animal will ultimately bring them. Whilst having an animal in the home will add extra responsibilities, the advantages and lessons that it will teach a child are invaluable, and well worth a few additional chores. So let’s go through the five common parental objections, instead addressing them from the viewpoint of how they will benefit your kids.
Objection One: “They’re Dirty!”
Obviously, this is dependant on your pet; goldfish, the most common ‘starter pets’ are kept inside a tank, so will not affect your overall house. Similarly, a rabbit or hamster kept inside a cage are mess-free. Dogs specifically have a bad reputation for causing chaos within the home, bringing muddy paw-prints onto carpets and hair onto… everything. Sure, you may have to up your vacuuming game but you can limit the damage by training your pet not to sit on the sofa or the bed. With little kids the house does tend to get dirty pretty quickly, anyway.
Many parents object to pets on the vague grounds that they ‘bring in diseases’, etc. Logic should tell you that this is rarely the case; how many of your close friends and family own pets? How many of them have ‘brought in diseases’? Exactly. In addition, Tom McDade, a biographical anthropologist from Northwestern University in Illinois is one of the many scientists to speak out about the dangers of being ‘too clean’: “microbial exposure is important for promoting the development of effective regulatory pathways that keep inflammation under control,” says McDade, which essentially means that harmless exposure to dirt and animals helps build up our immune system and could ultimately avoid allergies and asthma.
Objection Two: “What If They Die?”
Sadly, death is part of life and there will never be a ‘good’ time for your children to learn about it, be it with a pet or a family member. The question to ask yourselves is not “what if they die?” but, “what will they teach my kids whilst alive?” The benefits are endless; for young boys, nurturing a pet is an “acceptable” way to develop their skills as caregivers. Gail F. Melson, a developmental psychologist, found that young children with pets were more accurate when approaching biological questions like “does a goldfish have a heart?”, finding it easier to transfer biological information between species. Researcher Megan K. Mueller found that adolescents who interacted with animals were more likely to take on leadership roles and consider themselves important contributors to their communities.
Objection Three: “It’s Too Much Work!” or Objection Four: “I Don’t Need Something Else to Look After!”
Owning a pet allows children a chance to be accountable and responsible for something else. Be it feeding, walking or cleaning a pet, having an animal in the house is a valuable teaching tool. If taught correctly, children will not view nurturing as a chore, but rather as a responsibility and privilege. Sharing the care of a family pet forges an additional common bond among siblings – if all understand that the pet does not like shouting within the home, their love for said animal will spark a caring reaction.
A pet is a fantastic means of entertainment, particularly for children. With such a dynamic distraction, you may even find that you have more time for yourself! A study conducted by Dr June McNicholas, of the University of Warwick proved that 40% of children claimed they would look for their pet if they were bored, another 40% said that they would seek their pet if they were sad. The emotional and calming benefits of pets to children has been widely explored, but this manifests itself in many more ways than you might think; early readers are often more comfortable practising in front of their pets, than their parents or teachers.
Objection Five: “What If the Kids Are Allergic?”
If you’re worried about allergies, go for a fish or pets that live outside in cages, such as rabbits or gerbils. Those allergic to pets react to their fur, so dogs such as poodles, whose wooly hair differs from fluffy fur, are fine for those with allergies. It is a good idea to expose your children to other people’s pets when you are considering getting one yourself – this is also valuable in terms of learning about allergies. However, you can’t prepare for everything, and it did happen in my own family that a newborn baby was allergic to the family dog. Giving the pet away was extremely sad for the newborn’s siblings and not easy for the parents, yet they did go on to adopt other pets which they loved just as much.