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Pets are not just cute, cuddly creatures that entertain children and become their best friends throughout their childhood. In fact, interaction with animals can aid your child’s learning and development in several ways.
Raising a pet is a great way for children to discover values for themselves and develop emotionally. “In their interactions with animals, children often learn many important life skills such as sharing, [compassion], [loyalty] and [patience],” says Maureen Huang, founder of Pawsibility, which runs animal-assisted counselling and socio-emotional development programmes for children and youths.
“Animals teach children what it means to love and be loved,” Ms Huang adds. After all, being kind to animals is an intuitive response, and guides children in understanding how to treat fellow human beings.
What’s more, children learn to be responsible pet owners and partake in duties, such as feeding, cleaning and walking. They’ll also be more receptive to household chores – that means no whining when it’s time to wash the dishes and help with the laundry!
If your child is shy by nature, there’s no better way to break the ice with other children than having a pet accompany him or her to nearby playgrounds or parks. Animals are children magnets, and it’s a great way for your child to meet new playmates, or even make friends for life!
Pets also encourage your kids to venture outdoors and away from their computer screens. A fun-filled family outing with your pets at the Botanic Gardens over the weekend, or a simple walk can do wonders for an otherwise sedentary and stressful lifestyle most children lead nowadays. So have your child play fetch with the dog, bring the bunny out to nibble on grass, or lepak with the cat at a park!
Animals are non-judgemental and loving, which makes it easier for children to open up to them. This is why Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is ideal for those who grapple with a variety of emotional and mental issues, such as depression, anxiety, anger management, or special needs like autism and ADHD.
Ms Huang, who works with her therapy dog Telly at Pawsibility, says that animals help children learn empathy, which aids them in their day-to-day interactions.
“When we work with kids with anger issues, I noticed that all of them would be very kind and patient with Telly. Nobody would raise their voice or hit Telly,” she says. In one case, Ms Huang and Telly counselled a girl struggling with stress-related issues in school, by helping her to relax and apply healthy stress management techniques.
Getting a pet is a big step and comes with a big responsibility for the animal’s welfare. There are so many types of animals to choose from, so it’s important to consider which is the most suitable for your child. With proper commitment and care, your pet can be a constant source of comfort and joy to the entire family.