“Can I pleeeeeease have a dog?!” whines your child for the fifth time that day. Most parents’ immediate response would be along the lines of, “Not a chance!” However, have you thought about how having a pet could actually be beneficial for your child? It can help them learn responsibility, practice boundaries, and feel comforted.
Having a family pet gives your child opportunities to learn about responsibilities, empathy, and the needs of others. All children, no matter their age, can be given a caregiving task. A toddler or young child can help make sure their water dish is filled, find their leash for a walk, or sprinkle food in the fishbowl. Older children can help with walks, scooping the litter box, or making sure that they have enough play time during the day.
Pets are also a great way to show your child the importance of having your needs met. Is your cat more likely to knock stuff off the table or take a swipe at you when they are hungry? I bet your dog is more likely to whine when they haven’t been let outside recently.
Another great learning opportunity children gain by having a pet is about boundaries and consent. What happens when a dog or cat has their ears pulled on? Do they growl or hiss? That is them telling you “no” and to back off. It can also be the other way around. Many kiddos can have a hard time telling people no or to get out of their space. Having a little puppy who tries to jump on them is a great opportunity to practice advocating for their needs.
Pets can be so comforting for all people, especially children. Dogs and cats can provide warmth, comfort, and pressure on your body when upset or dysregulated. If your kiddo is having a hard time, see if they would want to sit with their pet and help them ground themselves by asking, “What does his fur feel like?,” “Is she breathing fast or slow?,” or “Does she like it when you pet her on her head or on her tummy?” These questions help them stay present in the moment and can quell surges of anxiety and anger.
Still hesitant to get a pet? Take some time to talk it over with your therapist to see if/how it could specifically benefit your family! If you do already have a pet and want to make the relationship between them and your child more intentional, have your therapist help incorporate some of these goals into sessions!