Any parent will tell you that their children spend a lot of time asking, pleading, negotiating, and even begging to get a pet. There is something about pets that mesmerizes children and makes them happy, so when our children got a bit older, we decided to get a cat. It started off as a nice gesture (we adopted a shelter cat), but it became an important life lesson. Here’s what our children learned through their relationship with our pet.
Pets aren’t toys
Pets require special care, they need to be fed daily, they need exercise, and an occasional trip to the vet, but above all, they need love and attention. When we got our Clara, first it was all fun and games, but over time our children learned that Clara needs her sleep, that she needs to eat, and that she doesn’t want to be disturbed while she’s doing those things. Even though my children were young at the time, they soon understood that Clara is a furry friend and not a toy for them to play with and just leave in a box when they’re bored.
Love like no other
Any pet owner will tell you that nothing compares to the love they share with their pets. Animals have feelings too, and they can return your affection and love you deeply. Growing up surrounded with love is important to children, and they will know that pets will never hurt or betray them in any way. In turn, children try to do the same for them and through care, they offer compassion and understanding.
Becoming more confident
One of the best things about pets is that they don’t judge you, and this is something children need to feel. When they’re with their pets, they feel completely safe, and they will even open up and talk to them about their problems, something they might not be comfortable doing with their friends. Children who are learning a new skill will proudly share it with the pet: our son recited a poem he had to learn for school to our cat. What is more, it has been proven that by reading out loud to an animal, children get more confident and learn to read much faster, because pets will sit there quietly and patiently and sometimes, that’s all a child needs.
Gentleness and consent
Through their relationship with the pet, children learn about empathy and consent. Animals teach children to respect others, their time and personal space: you don’t touch the animals that are eating or sleeping and you don’t approach a dog without asking the owner for permission. Children learn to be gentle and patient because building a relationship with a new pet takes time. It took some time for Clara to get comfortable in our home, but it was a useful lesson for us all.
At first, out of excitement and sheer joy of getting a cat, our son was ready to share everything with Clara, his food included. He offered the cat ice-cream, chocolate-chip cookies, and his lunch, thinking that the cat should also enjoy his delicious food. Over time, he learned that Clara doesn’t need his lunch because she has her own, special food which helps her stay healthy and strong. This is how my children learned that while they have their Ben & Jerry’s and spaghetti, Clara has her own Royal Canin cat food and that shouldn’t change.
Even though we feared that our children were way too young to understand what it means to take care of an animal, today we know that our cat has helped them mature and that they’re going to become responsible adults one day. It’s important to be patient and take it slow and to understand that it will take a while for your child and the pet to get used to each other, but it will be worth it in the end!