A pet in the home is an addition to the family. The comfort, love and companionship they offer goes a long way and has many benefits Studies show that having a pet can help lower your blood pressure and lessen childhood stress and anxiety.
Educational psychologist, Emma Wilkinson of the Bryanwood Therapy and Assessment Center in Johannesburg notes the use of therapy dogs in the mental health profession.
“Anxious kids will sometimes have a therapy dog. The dog is specifically trained to know when an anxiety attack is happening and will respond to comfort the child. That is an extreme case, but in general, without having that training, children will often turn their pets for comfort. I think the animals in turn are very much in tune to people’s emotions around them,” she says.
“There’s Equine Assisted Therapy as well. It’s becoming a big movement at the moment. It’s like a therapy session but done with horses. You have your therapist there and your horse handler working with the horse and the patient. There have been huge benefits in that, particularly for kids who can’t open up in a traditional therapy setting. They connect with animals, you see them blossom and open up,” Wilkinson adds.
Emotional and social empowerment
Having a pet gives children a chance to bond. That bonding experience can teach kids to be empathetic, tolerant and to be reciprocal.
“It teaches kids responsibility – how to look after someone other than themselves, which I think children need,” Wilkinson says.
“Unfortunately – and it’s becoming more and more prevalent – a lot of children are not being taught that. It’s becoming a very entitled existence for a lot of children, where they receive but they don’t give. Having to be responsible for another life is important for them.”
Kids need to be involved in caring for the pet. If it’s a dog, they need to help give it food and water, help brush it or take it for walks.
“To think about someone other than themselves is also a social skill. Kids are egocentric. It’s normal and part of development. We expect them at some stage to come out of that egocentric phase, and to think about the world around them. Pets help with that. And needing to do things even when sometimes you don’t want to do them teaches kids about consistency,” notes Wilkinson.
“Another point is that when parents are busy and you have pets, children do have that company as well. I have seen children bond so closely with their pets,” she says.
Learning about death and grief
It is devasting when pets die, but there can be positive life lessons from that experience.
“If the bereavement process is done correctly, children can be taught about loss and grief. It helps if they get to have a say about how to bury a pet. It helps them to ask questions about death. This is helpful to the parents as well who through the experience of losing a pet can see how their child responds to grief and grieving. This gives children real-world experiences that we shelter them from. When we shelter them, we’re not giving them the skillset that they need in life,” Wilkinson says.
Cons to consider
Wilkinson points out that the bereavement process following the death of a pet can have its downsides when it is not handled correctly. It can be a positive learning experience if it is handled well and a very traumatising one if it’s not.
She also notes the emotional downside when families have to move and can’t take their animals with them.
“There’s a big emigration trend now. What happens to that bond between the child and their pet when they must leave them behind? I have seen this a lot that children are struggling when they’re moving and they can’t take their pets with them,” she says.
When deciding to get a pet, you must have resources to maintain it. This includes financial resources. It is costly to keep a pet with vet bills and health insurance to consider.
However, Wilkinson emphasises the importance of having the emotional resources to care for a pet as well.
“Patience is paramount. This comes more down to the parents because children model from their parents’ behaviour. When you buy a puppy, they destroy things. They chew. If you don’t have the patience; if you’re going to shout at the dog or kick the dog; you’ll be setting the wrong precedent.
The way you behave towards the dog as an adult is how you are showing your child how to treat animals. I think it is very important that the family setting and family environment towards how we treat animals be correct. Families have to check that they have the financial, emotional and mental resources that are needed,” Wilkinson says.
You may also like
Reading Time: 4 minutesIn South Africa, it is important to determine a suitable payment for your house or pet sitter, and it is equally important …