For Parents and Caregivers

CHILDREN AND THE HUMAN-ANIMAL BOND

Children & HAB_Girl with dog

The human-animal bond can be a beneficial relationship for adults and children. The top three reasons why Americans own pets are for: companionship, love, and company. Pet keeping is at an all time high in the United States. Over 2/3 of households include a pet, and over 97% of pet owners consider their pet a “member of the family”. Children in the United States are now more likely to grow up with a pet than a live-at-home father.

There are many physical and mental health benefits from this relationship. Pet keeping can lead to increased exercise, laughter, and sensory stimulation (touch), while decreasing blood pressure. Animal-human interactions have also been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness as they enhance social support and well-being.

Pets can act as the perfect active playmates for children. Play is a very important developmental activity for both children and pets. In addition, there have also been studies showing that kids who are exposed to pets at an early age develop fewer allergies.

Pets can teach children many important skills, such as:

  • Empathy
  • Self-awareness
  • Moral intelligence
  • Pro-social behavior
  • Responsibility
  • Nurturing behavior
  • Compassion
  • Problem solving
  • Friendship
  • Social skills

CHILDREN AND NATURE

In a world where technology and the Internet are used for everything, it is important to recognize the value of spending time outside, especially for children. Exploring the outdoors gives children the opportunity for imaginative play and to learn about their environment. Children today can tell you more about the exotic animals from the other side of the world than the local wildlife living in their backyard. By interacting with pets and animals, children learn the importance of nature and spend more time outdoors.

Children with Nature_Boy with worm

Some benefits of children exploring and playing outdoors are:

  • Increase exercise
  • Increase imaginative play
  • Increase knowledge of animals and plants
  • Increase social interactions
  • Increase compassion for nature and wildlife
  • Increase Vitamin D from exposure to sunshine
  • Instill a desire to be in touch with nature
  • And so much more!

It would be beneficial  to teach children to be an active participant in their environment and world. By playing outside and learning about the local flora and fauna, children will appreciate what nature has to offer. Children can also develop more empathy and compassion for animals and pets.

Climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution are huge issues that could have serious impacts on future generations. Action taken to teach children about the relations between  nature and  the health of our planet and it’s people will increase the possibilities for children to grow up in a world that understands environmental concerns and has the knowledge to change behaviors and policies for the better.

 

KEEPING CHILDREN AND PETS SAFE

In 2005, 50% of the dog attacks in the United States involved children under the age of 12. Teaching children about safety around pets is very important and should be done at an early age.

Keeping Children & Pets Safe_Boy with dog

Here are some safety tips to go over with your child:

  • Teach your kids to respect your pets space
  • Discuss when it is and when it is not ok to pet a dog
  • Be aware of and talk about dog body language
  • Discuss what to do if your child encounters a stray dog or a dog off leash
  • Create a special time for your child to interact with your pet in a positive way
  • Teach that your dog is an individual and other dogs may not be the same
  • Anticipate how your dog reacts in different environments

For more information please visit some of the resources listed to the right.

CHILDREN AND MALADAPTIVE BEHAVIORS TOWARDS ANIMALS 

Most young children go through normative stages of exploration of their natural environment as they learn about the natural world around them. Some very young children cause injury or death to insects and small animals because they lack knowledge and/or understanding regarding the physical consequences of their behaviors. In instances where children lack intent to cause harm and/or a lack of understanding of the consequences to the animal, the behaviors are not considered maladaptive. It is important that parents and caregivers understand that, although not maladaptive, the  child’s behaviors still present a danger to animals. A responsible approach to such situations typically requires providing education about animal behaviors and the humane care of animals, combined with more watchful supervision of both children and animals. In some instances, the developmental status of the child and/or the attributes of the animal may dictate that the child’s interactions with certain animals be curtailed.

When is a child’s behavior towards animals maladaptive?

  • When the child physically harms or stresses the animal on purpose.
  • When the child understands that he/she is hurting the animal.
  • When the purpose of the action is to: see the animal suffer, scare or intimidate others, or take out internalized frustrations on the animal.

What it means?

  • This expression of maladaptive behavior may indicate that there are other issues going on with the child.
  • These types of behaviors should be taken very seriously and examined to determine the context and meaning of the behaviors.
  • Sometimes children who abuse animals become desensitized to inflicting harm and this could lead to future abuse issues.

What should you do if you suspect your child or a child you know is abusing animals?

  • Discuss the issue with the child’s school psychologist or counselor.
  • Discuss the issue with the child’s parents, if it is not your child.
  • Contact your local animal control office, humane society or your local law enforcement.

DISCUSSING PET LOSS WITH CHILDREN

Pet Loss with Children_boy

The death of a pet can be a very traumatic event in a child’s life. It is important to have truthful, age appropriate discussions with your children regarding your pets’ health. The loss of a pet can be an important time to normalize the life cycle and create an open dialogue with your child. It can be very beneficial to let your child find a special way to mourn the death of a pet. This can be done through letter writing, creating a scrapbook or photo album, or even holding a memorial service for the pet. Children learn a lot about how to deal with grief and loss through the way a pet’s death is handled.