As long as I can remember, I've had companion pets — mostly, cats — so I know how emotionally beneficial a furry friend can be. In fact, right this second, there are three cats in various parts of my house: one sleeping on the bed behind me, another sleeping in the next room, and a third (the baby) quietly planning to destroy the universe. My kids have never known a life without pets, and I think it shows. There are a few ways your kid will benefit from growing up with a pet, and I, for one, am eternally grateful for those benefits.
Some of my earliest memories are with my first cat, Princess. Actually, most of my memories involve a cat, with the exception of the years I had dogs and cats. I used to work in a veterinary clinic, where I assisted in the rehabilitation of wild animals, and I was once employed at a humane society, where I found new friends to take home. There was even a time I cared for a class ferret, you guys, just in case you're wondering if there's a limit to my love for all pets.
Watching my two kids, ages 6 and 11, spend time with our cats reminds me how vital their presence is in not just my life, but all of our lives. So with that in mind, here are just a few of the many benefits pets provide to those of us who are lucky enough to grow up with them:
They Can Help Manage Anxiety
I found my cat, Feathers, purely by accident when I was visiting a local pet store. I wasn't looking to add another cat to our family, but she saw me and reacher out her little paw as I walked by. I took it as a sign and since she has come into my life, she's proven to be such a calming presence. In fact, she often helps me manage my generalized anxiety disorder.
It's the same with my kids. If they're crying or overwhelmed, Feathers sits alongside them until they're better. Gail F. Melson, PhD, professor emeritus of developmental studies at Purdue University in Indiana, and the author of Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children, tells Parents that "kids who get support from their animal companions were rated by their parents as less anxious and withdrawn."
They Teach Responsibility
When you have a pet in your home children automatically learn how to be responsible for more than themselves. In my house, at least, there's a pride that comes with accomplishing chores — specifically when they're tied to the well-being of another creature — and I know it's a great way for my kids to development a solid self-esteem.
Giving age-appropriate tasks to kids (even as young as 2), and providing them with positive feedback once a task is completely, is a huge self-esteem boost that carries over into other parts of their life, according to The Washington Post.
They Help With Anxiety & Depression
Pet owners can attest to the mood-boosting benefits of having a companion nearby, especially when depression or anxiety strikes. My cats always remind me of the beauty around me, and particularly when I'm at a low point.
Steven Feldman, executive director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, tells the ADAA that, "Positive human-animal interaction is related to the changes in physiological variables both in humans and animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain." In fact, a 2016 survey of 2,000 pet owners showed an overall decrease in stress (by 88 percent), depression (by 86 percent), anxiety (by 84 percent), and other mental health-related issues.
They Help Develop Social Skills & Impulse Control
According to the Neurological and Physical Abilitation Center (NAPA), children (particularly with autism),who grow up with a pet have "more advanced social skills" and are "more assertive and communicative" than kids who don't. And according to Harvard Health and a 2015 study, pets help kids meet other kids. In other words, your beloved cat or dog is the catalyst for which your child can develop the social skills that helps them create and maintain relationships.
As far as impulse control, household pets can be used as a teaching tool to help modify behaviors, according to Psychology Today.
They Encourage A Healthy Lifestyle
If you give your child the responsibility of walking the dog, or even taking their pet out for a bathroom break, not only are you encouraging leadership, but you're facilitating a healthy lifestyle by encouraging your kid to get outside and move around. According to Health.com, "dog owners walked 300 minutes a week on average, while people who didn't own dogs walked just 168 minutes a week." And according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, pet owners are 54 percent more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity.
They Promote Bonding
Even on the busiest days, when we're all knee-deep in responsibilities and obligations, my family makes time to gather around the cats to throw them toys or talk about the super funny thing one of them did. Sometimes those are the only conversations we can enjoy, at least without my kids constantly arguing. Pets are a cure-all, I swear.
They're The Best Friends
Pets are loyal, eager to please, always there for you, and offer an unconditional love that no one else really can. And while cats are generally indifferent (or so they seem) to the human who is caring for them, mine have been there for me and my kids when we needed them most. Growing up with pets gives you an unwavering love to come home to, no matter what life throws at you.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.