Having pets made a huge difference in my life when I was a child. They were my best friends! As an adult, I’ve studied child development as well as spending countless hours teaching children. It never ceases to amaze me at what a good teacher pets can be. Some very important lessons for kids can be taught by our furry and feather friends.
Important Lessons for Kids #1: There is a proper way to interact with others.
My very first pet was a dog. She showed up on my parents’ doorstep as a puppy only a few months before I was born. According to my parents, I was terrible to that dog when I was a baby; I pulled her ears, I pulled her tail, I tried to ride her, etc. Still, she never snapped at me, she would just move away when I annoyed her.
What did I learn from this? If I want to interact with the dog, I can’t annoy her. In a way, pets can train us the same way we train them! She taught me how she wanted to be treated by moving away when I did something wrong. She stayed and interacted with me when I was doing pleasant things, which made me want to do the pleasant things more.
Obviously, the lessons above are only the very first social skills a child could learn. As I grew up I learned not just about personal space and not hurting others, but about sharing, communicating, taking turns, following rules, and trust.
Important Lessons for Kids #2: Development of motor skills.
Quick child development lesson. It takes a few years before kids gain full small motor function in their hands. As babies we can only open and close our hands (make fists). Being able to move individual fingers comes a bit later. The next step will be to develop something known as the pincer grasp, where objects can be gripped between the thumb and the other four fingers (think of making a duck shadow puppet). Finally they will begin to be able to form a tripod grasp, just like an adult holds a pencil.
The desire to pet an animal can help speed up and solidify the development of those small motor skills. As seen in Lesson #1 above, the pet can teach the child that they have to be nice in order to interact. Parents who are present at the time will probably correct the child too. A baby or young toddler may at first be attempting to pet their dog or cat with a closed fist (essentially punching the animal), but they will quickly learn that this is wrong. They will then begin concentrating very hard on trying to move more slowly and open their hand like Mom showed them to do. These attempts accelerate the process of development.
Gross motor skills can be helped by pets too! Playtime with a cat or dog can help with walking, running, trowing, crawling, squatting, jumping, and more. Even coordination gets a workout when you have a pet because you sometimes must walk and carry something in your arms at the same time.
Important Lessons for Kids #3: Be a responsible person.
Kids can help take care of their pets and learn what it means to be responsible. Even young kids can help feed or groom the family pet! Especially if the pet is a cat or a dog, the more tasks they take on, the more the pet will bond with them. They will get to see in a very tangible way that their actions affect others. Being responsible can result in a healthy, loving pet! However, if they neglect their responsibilities, there will be negative consequences.
Important Lessons for Kids #4: Life is precious.
In my opinion, this is one of the hardest lessons that a human being ever learns – living things can die. I remember when I first learned this cruel reality. At around 5 years old I was playing catch with a friend in my bedroom when we decided it was unfair that we hadn’t invited my parakeet, Bluie, to play with us. Completely naive, we began to toss the bird around until he suddenly went limp. I had no idea what had happened to him! When I found my parents I showed them the bird in the bottom of the cage and they had to explain it to me.
The heartbreak from Bluie’s death was crushing, but it taught me a very important lesson. Life is precious. Love all you can, while you can. Sometimes sorry doesn’t change anything. Even when my parents got me another parakeet, the excitement was tainted by the death I had caused. You have to be very careful with living things because they are all more fragile than they appear. I am very thankful that Bluie taught me this lesson while I was young so that I could grow in compassion.
Important Lessons for Kids #5: Being different can be a beautiful thing.
Kids want to learn all about their favorite animals. These interests are helpful for teaching them all different subject areas. If you love cats, you can explore science by way of the biology of cats, health of cats, psychology of cats, the physics of the way of a cat moves, etc. Other subjects could include cats in history, cats in art, cats in literature, and more.
One of the most important lessons for kids to learn from pets is that it is okay to be different. You can have great compassion for someone who is very different from you. Pets can teach kids to find the similarities between themselves and others more easily too.