The importance of pets in child social and cognitive development Autor: Corina Cotoi- dog

Whether it's a gold fish, a cat, a dog, a hamster, a reptile, an insect or a bird, pets are an important part of many children's lives. In order to make pet ownership a positive and worth having experience for the kids, it is necessary to have parental involvement (since we cannot expect a child to take care, by himself, with no help from the adults, of a pet), open discussion and careful planning of a family routine that should include taking care of the new family member.

A child who learns to care for an animal, to treat it with kindness and patience, might get a valuable training and experience in learning to treat people the same way, with empathy and understanding.

Many studies related to child's physical, behavioral and cognitive development showed the benefits of having a pet:

Physical

A child who has a pet, especially a furry one, is less likely to develop allergies or asthma as well as stress and anxiety related issues. Moreover, pets represent an excellent incentive for spending time outdoors and exercising. Small motor skills can be also encouraged by allowing children to help their parents with feeding and grooming the pet, pouring water into its bowl or dispenser, cleaning the aquarium or the terrarium.

Socio-emotional

Especially for children, pets can be extraordinary facilitators of social interaction, making quality communication between children more easily achievable. Children curious about, for example, another's child iguana may be more interested in finding more about the reptile and in becoming friends with the owner.

We, as parents, know the importance of self-esteem in the social emotional development of children. Accomplishing age appropriate tasks when taking care of the pet with their parents, makes a child more competent, confident and builds self-esteem.

Another aspect of socio-emotional development is empathy, the child's ability to understand how someone else feels. Research studies discovered that children who owned pets felt more empathy towards other people and that caring for a totally dependent pet makes children understand the feelings and needs of animals and those of fellow human beings from an early age.

Another important role of companion animals is that of providing social and emotional support. Prof. Bachman found out that pets were frequently chosen by children when asked who they would go to with a problem or a confession. This type of emotional support is considered to be important for the child's healthy psychological development. The social support given by companion animals may sometimes be more comforting than the social support given by people because pets can make children feel unconditionally loved and accepted, while humans may sometimes judge and criticize them.

Cognitive

The relationship between children and companion animals has been associated by Dr. R.H. Poresky with both a better cognitive development, as well as with better verbal skills and language acquisition, since pets represent a stimulus for practicing language through praise, encouragement, orders and punishment.

As children grow, they can be also encouraged to look for themselves for information on their pets, either from books, encyclopedias or online. Moreover, the regular visits to the vet may be an excellent opportunity for children to ask question and learn new things.

Each family which decides to adopt or to purchase a pet will most certainly bring a lot of joy and many benefits in their children's lives. However, this decision must be a thoroughly informed and a well planned one, involving a commitment by the parents, not the child, since the parents will be ultimately those responsible for the pet's welfare.

Bibliography

1. American Academy of Child&Adolescent Psychiatry - Pets and Children "Facts for Families" nr. 75

2. Bachman, R. W. (1975) Elementary school children perception of helpers and their characteristics. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 10(2), 103-109.

3. Bergesen, F. J. (1989) The effects of pet facilitated therapy on the self-esteem and socialization of primary school children. Paper presented at the 5th International conference on the relationship between humans and animals. Monaco 1989.

4. Endenburg, N. (1991) Animals as companions; demographic, motivational and ethical aspects of companion animal's ownership. Thesis, Amsterdam.

5. Nienke Edenburg&Ben Baards, The Role of Pets in Enhancing Human Well Being: Effects on Child Development

6. Poresky, R. H. and Hendrix, C. (1988) Developmental benefits of pets for young children. Paper presented at the Delta Society 7th Annual Conference.

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