Toddlers and the Importance of Pets
Yesterday I had the great misfortune of losing my childhood pet, Jake. A great white lab, well over one hundred pounds, and more pony than dog, he was only one of many animals that graced the Farrell home as I was growing up. In fact, my mother, who is currently in the process of moving, will henceforth be living in what is likely to become an actual farm equipped with dogs, cats, pig, chickens, and a mini-horse. It’s for the grandkids she quips, picturing her new one-acre lot being filled with the sticky hands and flushed cheeks that come with children. But all farm talk aside; I can’t help but think that she actually has a point, because despite all of an animal’s best qualities (they’re entertaining, warm, comforting, and love unconditionally), they are actually extremely beneficial to preschool aged children’s development.
Now maybe you’re sitting there shaking your head, sipping your latte, and thinking no way will this convince me to get a dog. I get it, not every home, nor every homeowner is bursting with eagerness to bring a doofy puppy into their lives, one that is sure to pee on or eat everything (at least for the first several months of their lives). But the good news is that your preschooler can benefit from a pet of any sort—fur and fin alike.
Pets provide an incentive for your preschooler counterparts to get outside and get fresh air. Running around and playing fetch are only two ways in which children are able to get some exercise while playing with their pets. Likewise, small motor skills can be worked on by having your preschooler help dish your dog or cat’s food into their bowl, or by having them help pour water into their dishes.
Research shows that preschool aged children are more comfortable approaching other kids their age when they are with an animal. In this way, an animal can help a socially stagnant child become much more outgoing. On that same note, because animals accept humans for who they are, children behind in their social development skills can grow to become more involved in their surroundings.
Pets reinforce emotional development such as a child’s self esteem (touched upon above) and their sense of responsibility. While parents are in charge of teaching their preschooler responsibility, pets provide an excellent outlet for doing so. Assigning age appropriate tasks to your children (i.e. helping with food and water dishes at ages two and three, and moving to grooming and potty duty at age five) will give them a sense that they are taking care of someone other than themselves. Eventually, as time moves on and your preschooler develops into an elementary school student, so will their responsibilities.
Research suggests that children who own pets might facilitate language acquisition and enhance the verbal skills in children. The idea is that pets appear as a patient listener to the preschool child, despite their incessant babbling. This has been theorized in major research as an attractive outlet for preschool children and toddlers to communicate with.
All developmental skills aside, having an animal as a preschooler (and into your growing childhood years) is just plain fun. Beach days become infinitely more interesting when you have a dog running in and out of the water, sleeping is much more enjoyable when you have the warm presence of a cat curled beside you, and even walking into a room after a long day of school and being able to say “hey!” to your bearded dragon (another Farrell family pet) brings a smile to your face. Heck, I’ve even had a fish swim to the opposite side of his tank to see me whenever I walked into the room. Animals will care and love you unconditionally, and when you get right down to the nitty gritty, who couldn’t use a little more love?