Here’s how a family pet will help your children
It's been some heavy topics for the last few columns on guilt and grief, so this week I wanted to discuss a lighter topic that brings joy to the hearts of most - the bundle of joy that is a family pet.
Three fifths of Australian households own a pet. There's good reason for this as there are multiple benefits for families who do.
The presence of a pet, particularly a dog, encourages family members to do more exercise in walking them every day, and undertaking outside play. It's thought that children's allergies improve with the presence of a pet in their house, and research shows that pet ownership results in a reduced need for health appointments, as well as improved sleep.
Many pets can also help people with medical conditions - some dogs can be trained to alert their owners with diabetes about their reduced blood sugar levels.
Pets give those who live with them a fantastic sense of social support and a wonderful common bond among family members. When you've had a bad day, a pet is always happy
to see you - even if they have an ulterior motive of getting fed.
Research shows us that lonely people often view their pet as a social support. This doesn't come at the risk of other human relationships as pet owners are equally likely to seek social support outside of the home.
The presence of a pet in a room has been shown to improve children's stress levels. I saw this as a school counsellor, when a colleague brought their puppy to the counselling centre.
In my sessions, many children were much calmer when discussing their issues while patting a puppy in their lap.
Pets can also be good for neuro-atypical children, as there's some evidence of dogs helping reduce anxiety in children with autism.
While all owners dread the idea of losing a family pet, many parents talk about the fact that, although heartbreaking, the loss of pet enables children to better understand death and learn to cope with loss. Children can also see other developmental stages such as their pet being pregnant, the special needs and training required in their first year, or the extra patience required for the pet's senior years.
Sense of responsibility
Of course, there's much responsibly involved in having a pet. There are many daily tasks
such as feeding, exercising, cleaning up after them, and ensuring they have fresh water and snacks, if they need them. As often as you can, get your child involved in these tasks.
Children as young as four years old can put a cup of dry food in a pet's bowl, and older children can be more responsible for the pet's needs as one of their daily chores.
Contemplating a family pet?
Think about whose pet it will be. For example, if one child wants the pet to be sleeping on their beds and naturally prefer them, then they need to be the primary carers, and take on the majority of the responsibilities, particularly feeding and cleaning up.
Key here is not to buy on a whim or due to their nagging - they should truly value the pet
and not ignore its needs when their attention turns another way. To prove your child's ready, give them some new tasks for a few months to see if they're mature enough to
remember their responsibilities.
Of course, it would be remiss of me to do a column like this without mentioning that a pet is for life and that families should really consider the accountability of pet ownership before adopting their bundle of fur or scales. Speak to other owners of similar pets to see if they'll
fit in with your lifestyle, before introducing them into your happy home.
Originally published as Here's how a family pet will help your children