“Mummy, please can I have a puppy?” pleads the repetitive refrain when a child discovers a penchant for pets and the idea is greeted with distinctly less fervour from the higher ranking members of the household. Where your child sees an adorable fluffy play pal and lifelong companionship, you may be more inclined to picture dirty carpets, chewed slippers and long walks on sub-zero winter mornings. But can inviting a friend of the four-legged variety into your home actually be beneficial to your child’s development?
“Pet ownership is a great way to help children develop emotionally and intellectually,” says Phil Sketchley, chairman of the National Office of Animal Health “As well as being educational and fun, it encourages a child to take on great responsibility at an early age.” One study even found that seven-year-olds ranked their pets as their most special relationship, alongside their parents, grandparents, siblings and best friends, as the love between a child and a pet is seen as unconditional.
If that hasn’t weakened your resolve, maybe the health benefits of pets for your children will. As well as becoming kindred spirits, studies have found that children with pets have stronger immune systems. Exposure to cats and dogs in the first year of life may also reduce your child’s chances of suffering from allergies or eczema.
Of all the life lessons having a pet can impart, perhaps the toughest is loss. The death of a goldfish or hamster can be upsetting for a child, but also an important way for them to learn about the cycle of life and how to deal with grief. Having a little ‘goodbye ceremony’ in the garden can be a constructive way for your child to bid farewell to his friend, in a positive and respectful way.
This article previously appeared in Junior magazine as a print article