“The dog was created specially for children. He is the god of frolic.” - Henry Ward Beecher
Recently, Pope Francis called those couples who choose pets over having children, selfish.
Parenting is hard enough. I say, it’s probably best left for people who want to be parents. If you want the puppy more, stick with the dog. One less possible serial killer.
Pets and children
With children or without, pets have the proven ability to enhance our lives.
For those with kids, pets can also be valuable parenting partners. Studies show that our 4-legged family members help kids stay healthier. Both dogs and kids need to run and tire themselves out. If they can do it together and save the parent, all the better.
Other studies have shown that early exposure to pets, especially dogs and certain dog bacteria, can ward off the development of asthma and allergies.
Pets also help in the childhood development of crucial social and emotional skills. A survey of close to a couple dozen studies has confirmed the link between the psychological health of kids and having pet companions.
“‘I’m not alone,’ said the boy. ‘I’ve got a puppy.'”
- Jane Thayer
Life is tough for all of us, but it can be especially overwhelming and scary to those who’ve only recently arrived on this planet.
Animals help calm anxiety and reduce stress in the old, in the middle and in the young. For children, the presence of a pet at home helps foster a sense of security. Pets help calm separation anxiety by being constant company when parents are not around.
For many kids, the animals in their lives can play a gigantic role. When we are young, some of our earliest and deepest relationships are with our pets.
Unlike relationships with imperfect people, animal companions offer us unconditional love and acceptance. Often at times when we need it the most.
Having a pet to confide in without fear of rejection helps a child cultivate a positive self-image, boost confidence and build self-esteem.
Because our pets love us, we learn to love in return. Pets help kids develop empathy, compassion and understanding - not to mention a respect for other living things.
In this emotional attachment is relationship training. It’s been found that this emotional attachment to pets leads to being better able to foster relationships with others.
Even the smallest of pet-friends can provide big lessons in responsibility.
One study found that the discipline developed through caretaking for fish helped diabetic teens develop the habits to help them better manage their own glucose-level checking routine.
Pets are also associated with greater childhood cognitive development and has been linked to improved communication skills and even better vocabulary.
Pet, non-pet households are different
Researchers from RAND Corporation (2017) found that while parents of children raised with pets report broad positive health, emotional and learning outcomes, the report showed that there were many other differences between pet and non-pet households including affluence, income, native language spoken and housing type.
Yes, there appeared to be a positive benefit on the lives of children with pets – but the data also revealed that it was most likely factors like race and socioeconomic status that had the biggest impact.
“Nothing less than alchemy is involved when animals and children get together, and the resulting magic has healing properties that work well.” - Elizabeth Anderson
Notwithstanding the wide disparity when it comes to having household pets, all evidence points to the value of animals put to good use as qualified therapists.
For kids with learning disorders and challenges communicating, animals can sometimes get through when people cannot. Through positive nonverbal cues, animals can provide a gateway to communicating and interacting with others.
O’Haire et al. at Purdue (2013) found that autistic children experienced lower stress levels, more peer engagement and more positive social interactions after just ten minutes playing with guinea pigs.
Another study looked at how dogs helped children with ADHD focus in school. Students who read to dogs for 30 minutes a week showed more cooperation and sharing and fewer behavioral problems. For other children and teens, grooming horses and leading them around reduced PTSD symptoms.
Challenged or not, animals can help all of us. Especially kids during uncertain times.
Everyone should have a pet dragon
A 2010 U.K. study found that a strong predictor of whether kids have pets was whether their mother had a pet as a child. As a kid, I had a menagerie.
Back in the day, the pet reptile options were limited to a small lizard or iguana, or turtle or a snake. I chose a snake. The bearded dragon was a species not introduced as a pet in the U.S. until the 1990’s.
Our pandemic pet, Enzo the bearded dragon, is now firmly rooted as a member of the family, unenthusiastically accepted by a couple of cats as their new little brother.
As both a parent and as a long-time reptile aficionado, I find myself a fan of this animal. He’s a very good listener.
He’s calm and Zen-like, taking it all in stride and encouraging us to try do the same.
For some pet motivation of your own, search ‘sleeping bearded dragon’ images.