Pet Care for Kids: Caring for Animals and Social-Emotional Skills

“Can we get a dog?” is a repeated refrain in my home. However, I grew up with dogs and know how much work they are, and as a work-at-home parent, I realized the bulk of caring for a dog would fall to me. So, for now, the answer is no. But that doesn’t mean the answer will always be no because caring for animals is an excellent way to teach children responsibility.

My children have always had a pet. First, two cats, and for the last four years, a tank of brightly colored fish. There has also been recent talk of a guinea pig somewhere in the future. My goal is to have pets that my children can help care for that won’t overwhelm them or me. 

Depending on your family’s level of interest in animals or skill in caring for them, you may have an entire farm or opt for a single goldfish. But whether it’s thirteen goats or one hamster, caring for animals teaches children a range of social-emotional skills.

Let’s examine how caring for a pet develops your child’s social-emotional well-being!

Teaches Responsibility

Taking care of another living thing is a huge responsibility, so adding a pet to your family shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even something as simple as a fish needs its water changed regularly and daily feeding.

The good thing is that even toddlers can help with basic pet care! Your children can fill the food bowl, play with a cat or dog, sprinkle fish food in a tank, or refill a rabbit’s water bottle.

Develops Empathy

Caring for animals develops empathy. It makes children aware that other living things and people have feelings. Animals may be unable to express those feelings in words, but we know that animals instinctively feel fear and love.

Animals also have needs that must be met, which sometimes means putting their needs before ours. For example, take the dog for a walk before watching your favorite TV show, or remember to fill their water dish before you leave for the day to ensure they’re not thirsty.

The empathy children develop when caring for animals will transfer to other living things, such as plants, wildlife, and other people.

Teaches Time Management

Pet care is a chore like taking out the trash or completing their homework. As a result, it teaches children time management. If it’s their responsibility to feed the cat every morning before school, they must learn how to manage their time best to ensure it is completed along with their other morning tasks.

Conversely, children will learn that if they spend too much time playing with the dog or procrastinating when it’s their turn to clean the fish tank, they’ll have less time for other chores and responsibilities.

Fosters Independence

Learning to care for animals fosters independence. When kids become adept at a task related to pet care, they develop a sense of independence and self-reliance.

Teaches Respect

When children are responsible for animals, not only do they develop empathy and compassion for them, but they develop respect for living creatures.

Caring for animals teaches children respect for animals and those who work with them professionally, such as farmers, veterinarians, and zookeepers. Through animal care, children understand that animals and pets deserve to be treated with respect.

Promotes Teamwork

Caring for a pet is typically a family effort, meaning everyone pitches in to help. So, caring for animals promotes teamwork and cooperation.

Each person may have assigned tasks. Or it may be a collaborative effort with shared duties depending on the day, day of the week, or time of year.

A sense of independence will also translate to other areas, such as getting dressed independently, completing chores without reminders, and practicing personal self-care.

Teaches About Handling Grief

Unfortunately, most pets will pass away long before our children reach adulthood. However, having a pet that dies can help teach young children about death and how to handle grief.

When a pet dies, it is sad. Still, it creates a valuable teaching opportunity for parents and caregivers. A pet’s death prepares children for the death of a loved one, which will also, unfortunately, undoubtedly happen one day.

There are many excellent reasons to add a pet to your family. However, before undertaking the responsibility, ensure you fully understand it. Different animals have different needs and levels of commitment. Research before adopting or purchasing an animal to ensure you meet the requirements.

July 22, 2023, by L. Elizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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