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Why Kids Need Pets

By Bonnie Owens on June 22nd, 2009

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Your kids have begging you for months now to get a dog, a cat, a fish, etc.  But all you can think about is lugging home big bags of food and house training a feisty little pet.  It is true that new pets take work.  And generally the more interactive they are, the more work it takes.  But here are five facts about pet ownership that may just convince you that they are worth all the trouble.

    Pets Can Aid in Learning

    Educators have long known that bringing therapy animals (mostly dogs) into schools helps developmentally challenged kids learn.  Now they are finding that all children can benefit from the presence of a nonjudgmental pal with paws.  In one study, children were asked to read in front of a peer, an adult, and a dog.  Researchers monitored their stress levels, and found that kids were most relaxed around the animal, not the humans.  If your child is learning to read, it can be a lot more appealing to them to curl up with a critter friend and tell them a story than to sit at their desk with a book.

    Pets Provide Comfort

    A group of 5-year-old pet owners were asked what they did when they felt sad, angry, afraid, or when they had a secret to share.  More than 40 percent spontaneously mentioned turning to their pets.  Parents rated kids who get support from their animal companions as less anxious and withdrawn.

    Pets Encourage Nurturing

    Nurturing is a quality that needs to be acquired through experience.  You don’t automatically learn to nurture because you were nurtured as a child.  Children need to practice being caregivers when they are young.  And today, there is little opportunity for kids to provide for other living things aside from pets.   So how are the seeds of good parenting skills planted during childhood?  Caring for pets is a great way.  One study tracked how much time kids over age 3 spent actively caring for their pets versus caring for or even playing with younger siblings. Over a 24-hour period.  The pet-owning kids spent 10.3 minutes in caregiving while those with younger siblings only spent 2.4 minutes.  Nurturing animals is especially important for boys because taking care of an animal isn’t seen as a ‘girl’ thing like babysitting, playing house, or playing with dolls.  By age 8, girls are more likely to be involved than boys in baby care both inside and outside their homes, but when it comes to pet care, both genders remain equally involved.

    Pets Keep Kids Healthy

    According to a study by Dennis Ownby, MD, a pediatrician and head of the allergy and immunology department of the Medical College of Georgia, in Augusta, having multiple pets actually decreases a child’s risk of developing certain allergies.  His research tracked a group of 474 babies from birth to about age 7.  He found that the children who were exposed to two or more dogs or cats as babies were less than half as likely to develop common allergies as kids who had no pets in the home.  Children who had animals had fewer positive skin tests to indoor allergens and outdoor allergens.  Other studies have suggested that an early exposure to pets may decrease a child’s risk of developing asthma.

    Pets Increase Family Bonding

    A pet can be the focus of many activities that families do together.  Everyone takes the dog for a walk, or shares in grooming and feeding him, or gets down on the floor and plays with him.  There are even benefits from simply watching a cat chase his tail or a fish swim in his tank.  Spending time like this offers the wonderful potential of slowing down the hectic pace of life. It might seem like you are doing nothing.  And with the busy lives of parents AND children who are constantly on the go, doing “nothing” can be essential to growing closer as a family.

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