Owning a pet is more than giving hugs and cuddles. Discover eight values pet ownership may inculcate in your young one.
WORDS CINDY LIM
Your child can learn much from owning a pet, including these eight valuable life lessons.
Pet ownership comes with responsibilities to provide quality care to the animal and to keep the pet for life. From feeding, bathing, walking the pet or potty duty, children learn the importance of caring for another living creature.
“The child should understand that animals are sentient beings with the ability to feel pain and experience emotions. They should be prepared to look after the needs of the animal not just when convenient but regularly and without fail. As each species has different requirements, the child should also be able to understand what needs to be done and the frequency of each husbandry task. Appropriate handling is also very important as animals, especially smaller ones, can be easily hurt if inappropriate methods are used. Children can participate in looking after pets but, ultimately, the adults have to take responsibility and be prepared to look after the animal if the child is unable to,” explains Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of SPCA.
Pets love their owners unconditionally. It does not matter to them how you look, smell, dress or what grades you score. They do not bear grudges when you yell at them in a fit of anger or after they have been punished for bad behaviour. Says Dr Gill, “The joy of pet ownership is the love we give to and receive from our pet, both in good times and bad. Children will certainly learn to love another and in return, be showered with an abundance of love.”
As most pets are smaller than them, children learn to handle these small creatures carefully and not to play roughly with them.
Learning proper care for animals can help foster kind behaviour, and also teach children not to pick on those smaller than them.
When pets are sick or injured, children learn to take care of them and nurture them back to good health. Also, children learn not to discriminate or forsake a pet just because it has a disability now.
Interacting with pets help children to learn about personal space and boundaries. Pets, like humans, have moods and dislikes. Children will learn to handle animals gently, tend to their needs or when not to disturb or interrupt their pets – when they are eating, sleeping or when they show signs of irritability or aggression.
Pets place a great amount of trust in us to look after all their needs. In turn, we tend to talk to our pets or share our troubles with them when we do not have others to turn to.
Children will learn not to abuse the trust that pets place in us and that pets make great friends whom they can trust their secrets to. This will help them build trust in other relationships too.
Looking after animals takes time and patience, especially when a task like cleaning the potty needs to be done repeatedly. With new pets, bonding and training them takes time and children will learn to be patient as the new pet slowly becomes more familiar and comfortable with its new surroundings. Having children help in this aspect of pet rearing allows them to learn that patience and consistency will reap great benefits in the end.
Children have to understand that when the tough gets going (ie. when they are overloaded with school work or when they do not have enough time to play) they should not abandon or neglect their pets. “A pet is for life and this is something a child must learn from the beginning. Being loyal to your pet is one of the key principles of responsible pet ownership,” shares Dr Gill.
Dealing with Illness, Loss and Grief
It is never easy to see a loved pet fall ill or to lose a loved pet. Unfortunately, most pets do not have a long lifespan. The child will learn about sickness and the ageing process of their animal. And when the time comes to part with a beloved pet, they will have to learn to cope with the loss, which will teach them about the cycle of life and death and the grieving process.
By including children in the care of the pet, they not only learn how to look after it but also that loving another living being is much more than just playing with it. Apart from fulfilling emotional and physical needs such as love, affection and comfort, having a pet in your family is a great way to teach your children important life lessons.