VET’S VIEW: How pets can help teach children

WERE you aware how much pets can help teach children?

On my weekly school visits, many pupils owning pets have already learned and developed valuable life skills, improving their knowledge of subjects such as science (how and when it moves, what it eats, where it sleeps), maths (how many?), even literacy (combining natural fascination with reading and writing), and social/ethical skills like empathy, all learned through different ways of interacting with animals.

If you enjoyed pets as a child, you probably received heaps of unconditional love and companionship.

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Looking back, we clearly gained far more from our pets than we realise, even now. Children growing up with pets usually show greater self-esteem, social skills, attention spans, better non-verbal communication skills – even improved school attendance. Often they’re more emotionally stable, too, and apparently less likely to become criminals!

Pets teach children compassion, loyalty, and respect for other creatures, allowing them to develop trusting relationships; with pets as friends, children always have someone to tell secrets to.

Children must understand animals have different personalities, characteristics, and traits, all demanding recognition and respect. They need to be confident noticing signs of pain and distress, with acceptable handling skills, stroking, respecting the animal’s need to chill out, and allow them freedom without pulling on, kicking, restraining, or chasing them. As a matter of extreme safety, children must not stroke or approach dogs they don’t know, take food or bones away, and recognise animal body language basics.

Children learn friendship skills with animals, the value and fun in exercise, and that they need attending to every day, not just when the child feels like it. With very young children, time spent with any pet should always be supervised.

When choosing your own child’s pet, why not consider something simple like a degu or mouse? Size really doesn’t matter here – it’s the process of caring that does.