A dog is a man’s best friend. But what about children? A new study from the American Psychological Association found that having pets can help teach empathy in kids.
In fact, they found that pet owners have higher levels of empathy than non-pet owners. The study also concluded that the more time spent with a pet, the stronger their relationship grew and this helped to develop an empathetic bond which improved moods and lowered stress levels.
Pets provide unconditional love, allow for more physical contact with others, and create social connections between people who live alone or don’t have many friends outside of school…all things we want our children to be able to do!
Here we’ll discuss 5 ways pets can help teach empathy to children.
Caring for a Pet Improves a Childs Self Esteem
A good self-esteem is essential to having compassion and empathy. Someone with a high self worth finds it easier and more natural to be empathetic toward others.
Caring for a pet, walking it, feeding it and nurturing it makes a child feel proud of themselves. They feel good that they were able to meet someone elses needs.
Give your child age-appropriate tasks to care for pets in the home. It’s a perfect way to give them responsibility and to build their self-esteem.
You can take it one step further by verbally explaining to them how you feel about them caring for the pet and how the pet must feel being so cared for.
Giving them simple statements that help put them in perspective will only strengthen their desire to be empathetic toward animals.
“I’m so proud of you for caring for Fido. He looks so happy to be getting pets from you. It must have felt good going on a walk like that. He loves exercise. He must feel very cared for. How do you feel?
The Unfortunate Lesson of Death
Death is an inevitable part of life and a lesson children must unfortunately learn one day.
Pets have shorter lives than humans. And fact is when you get a family pet, especially when the children are younger, they’ll experience their pets dying.
This may sound especially hard for you, or too traumatic for children, but learning about death is essential for them.
Often, parents try to hide the facts of life and death, but you really shouldn’t avoid the discussion.
Instead, the experience of loss often teaches them more about empathy than you could have thought possible.
Make sure to keep an open discussion about their feelings when this happens. Each lesson in empathy must involve lots of discussing and defining of feelings.
As they grow and go out into the world, they’ll need the knowledge of how their actions and words affect others. That all feelings, the good and the bad are a normal part of life and nothing to be ashamed of.
Putting Someone Else Before Themselves
All children are born self centered. It’s a basic survival instinct. Babies are born having no idea that there is anything beyond themselves.
They can’t even tell where “they” end and their mom or dad begins. They learn this after months of experience and development.
One thing babies do know however, is when they are hungry. Their little bodies use automatic instincts to start sucking at anything that gets near their mouth.
When food isn’t readily available, they also know to wail to get some food.
By answering your babies wails, you teach them that you care for them and you will always meet their needs.
By allowing your child to care for another living being, you are allowing them to gain the experience that puts the same concept of helping others, into a reality.
Now this only works when you ensure your child feeds the family pet each day, before they get distracted playing or heading out to school.
You are helping them to learn to put someone else ahead of their own wants, which is an life skill to learn in a healthy way.
It’s a good way to help your child learn the difference between wants and needs.
The dog needs to be fed, where your child wants to go play.
Learning that Everyone Has Needs
Needing something gets a bad rap today. We have become a society that thrives and praises independence and “not needing anyone.”
But, this also causes a lot of the mental health problems such as anxiety and depression that too many people struggle with.
It’s important for our children to underestand that everyone has needs, that needs are normal and natural.
When your child cares for a pet, feeding it and cuddling it they learn that their pets have needs.
When they have to give up something (life a few minutes of free time) to make sure their pet gets what it needs, it gives them a better life perspective.
Of course, this is way easier for your kids to learn if you help spell it out for them.
“I’m sorry that we cannot afford to go to Disney this year, but it was important to get that surgery for Sammy the cat so that his belly was better, and he felt good and could live a happy life. I’m so glad that you were willing to help Sammy feel better, maybe we can save more money and go next year.”
Without the perspective and explanation, it’ll be hard for your child to put two and two together.
By explaining it to them, you help them connect actions to possible repercussions and help them understand why it’s important to do the right thing.
Finding Out They Have the Power to Make Others Feel Good
Children often don’t understand the own power they wield. They don’t know that giving a hug to someone, makes some else feel just as good as it does to them.
They don’t know affection and a full belly feel just as good to their dog as it does to them.
They don’t know that other people feel the same emotions they do all the time. But, caring for a pet can help them understand their power.
That they are capable of making someone (or something) else feel loved and cared for.
Giving kids the ability to care for pets can make all the difference. Of course, all tasks and duties should be age appropriate.
But even toddlers can be taught to “pet the kitty nicely” and to “be soft.” Learning these lessons will translate into social interactions with humans too.
Learning not to pull on the dog or not to hit him can help teach your child not to hit other children as well.
If you do decide to get a family pet, make sure to check out your local pound.
Avoid breeders and pet mills. There are all sorts of pets out there that need a loving home.
If you’re not sure a pet will work out for your family, there’s always the option to try fostering a pet first. After all, getting a pet is often a 10-20 year commitment, and not for the faint at heart.