Millions of families on this planet include at least one non-human member. Whether it is a dog, cat, fish, turtle, rabbit or python, a new pet can very quickly become a much-loved member of the family in its own right.
Many studies have shown that this can only be a good thing – for many reasons. When it comes to teaching children a variety of life lessons, helping to bond individual members of the family together as a unit and generally creating a sense of well-being and contentment within the home, there is nothing like the unconditional love that a family pet radiates.
Watching a stumbling kitten struggle with its new limbs while it explores the wonder that is the world around it often inspires the same type of wonder in the watcher. Sharing these types of experiences with your young children is like being present and watching the birth of their own personalities before your very eyes. You are watching, even influencing, them as they create the fundamental thought processes that will inform their every future move in life, as they incorporate their maturing view of the world into the expression of their own existence.
As both the animal and child matures, so does the family unit itself. Members are commonly added as new children come onto the scene, and the interactions between sibling and sibling, and sibling and parent, are often tempered by the impartial and spontaneous love that a family pet can bring to the picture.
Upset, confused or lonely children are often comforted by the complete support and acceptance offered by a long-loved animal. Memories of shared experiences, and the complete lack of judgement possible from the animal can cradle a sad heart with the wag of a tail and touch of a paw.
Positive, life affirming events such as the birth of new puppies – or even new tadpoles – can inspire an active curiosity about nature and the fundamental questions of life. If seen in the right perspective and recognised by parents, they can provide opportunities for learning that cannot be found in books, on TV or even in video games!
Lessons learned from other, less happy events, while more difficult to experience, are just as important and valuable than the joyful occasions. If a family pet is sick or injured, the feelings experienced can be just as powerful as if a human member of the family were in peril. The agony of waiting to find out if the patient will recover and be healthy again is not pleasant, but is an important introduction to adult concepts that will recur throughout life and can teach children emotional strength, as well as confirm that the worst does not always happen when the pet is safe at home again.
Should the worst happen, and the patient not pull through, even the ultimate tragedy of losing a loved one can be felt, examined and understood somewhat through the loss of a pet, well before the child must inevitably face the same situation as an adult. It is important that parents recognise the learning opportunities inherent in raising an animal alongside their human children. Starting from the time the child is old enough to interact safely with the chosen animal, having both the child and pet grow together is the ideal situation. Depending on the pet, the animal’s shorter life cycle will allow the children to watch them grow from babies to adults, to parents with children of their own. Obviously such an epic cycle involves commitment and responsibility, both from the child and the parents involved.
It is immediately apparent that pets bring with them a joy, spontaneity, and unconditional love that can only add to any family unit. There are, however, many less obvious, but very important, reasons why it can only benefit every family to include at least one non-human member.