How pets influence the social, emotional and cognitive development of children
A significant percentage of growth and development physiological, social, emotional, and cognitive happens during the childhood and adolescent phase. This could lay the foundation for learning coping skills and other adaptive behaviors which make life easier as children grow up. It is important to state here that the opportunities for children to socialize with their peers, to observe, ask questions, imitate, and learn have significantly reduced in today’s digital lifestyle. Children these days are caught up with their gadgets which often serve as nannies and entertainers. This seems to have changed the normal course of observation, exploration, discovery, and learning. In such a scenario it is important to note that pets provide more opportunities to establish and strengthen natural learning mechanisms.
It is a known fact that children not only develop an attachment to their pets but also treat them as one of their family members. Attachment theorists believe that children who are attached to their caregivers not only build strong bonds but are also able to maintain close relationships with others. (Source 2). Even though these conclusions have been drawn from the studies which focus on human interaction, it is important not to overlook the human-animal bond and its effect on various developmental aspects in children.
Some researchers found that children who had pets were ‘generally better off than children who did not have a pet’. Children raised in families with pets were reported by their parents to:
- have better general health
- be more obedient
- be more physically active
- be less moody
- have fewer behavior problems
- have fewer learning problems (source 1)
How having pets help in the overall growth and development of children?
Pets are the perfect companion for children. In today’s world, single children are more common than ever before and pets seem to be the right addition to such families to help these single children overcome the problem of loneliness.
Separation anxiety is common among children whose parents leave them at home to go to work. The pet then becomes a source of security and stability for the child.
Learning to handle responsibility
Children learn to be nurturing and responsible when they are entrusted with the task of taking care of their pets.
Playing with pets could calm them down and relieve them of any stress they may be facing. Playing toucjing and bonding with pets also helps children build stronger bonds with their peers and friends. source
Training and teaching their pets tricks could instill confidence and leadership qualities in children and these skills could come in handy in other areas of life. Children learn qualities such as perseverance, achieving their goals, and gaining rewards for jobs well done which are very important for life.
Playing and walking pets provide children enough exercise outdoors. This keeps them physically and mentally active. This could also provide them opportunities to socialize and make friends outside their usual social circles.
Young children speak to pets as they normally speak to others, it could play an important part in helping younger children develop a larger vocabulary and social skills. It could also be a cathartic experience for children who have emotional problems.
Disadvantages of Having pets
One of the commonly voiced negative effects of having pets is that children could be allergic to pets. It is also vital to state here that optimal attention needs to be given while choosing pets, the child’s health in mind is of utmost importance.
Bites from pets could also be a negative effect. However, it is important to train your pets well especially if you have children.
The death of a pet could be seen both as an advantage and a disadvantage. Children learn to accept death as a natural progression of life. However, the death of a pet could cause serious emotional turmoil in young children. Parents need to be prepared to handle such possible events.
One important aspect we need to keep in mind while talking about the impact of pets on wholesome development in children is that just having pets at home alone will not do the trick. The level of attachment and interaction these children have with their pets is what brings about the positive results mentioned here. [source 1]
The benefits of having pets are not restricted to having dogs or cats alone, attachment and interaction with other pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits, horses, tortoises could bring about the same benefits. However, these have not been studied in depth.
While there are both advantages and disadvantages in having pets from the literature reviewed thus far it would seem the benefits far outweigh the liabilities.
Although there is enough direct and indirect evidence to suggest that owning pets are beneficial to children in their emotional, cognitive and social development there is a need for more focused studies in this area.
In the last and final part of this thesis I will be dealing with how pets help people with mental health problems through the work of various researchers. Stay tuned. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. To read the first part of this thesis click here.
From mental health to physical health.