Children and AdolescentsParenting

Pets Can Benefit Your Child’s Mental Health

Pets provide joy to many people.  The decision to bring pets  into your home can be complicated. You will likely ask yourself things like whether or not your family’s lifestyle can support the inclusion of a pet, if it’s affordable for your family, and if your children (and you!) will be willing and able to take care of a pet, especially once it is in the home and the novelty of it has worn off. While these logistical questions are very important to consider, it is equally important to think about some of the ways in which the addition of a pet could improve the overall emotional well-being of your child.

Pets help your child learn to be other-focused vs. self-focused.

Pets are a great way for a child to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around her all the time, and it’s an excellent opportunity for her to be taught to put her focus onto someone other than herself and her own issues and problems. This can help her put them into a more realistic perspective than she can when that’s all she’s focused on, which essentially just serves to magnify those problems.

Pets help give your child a sense of purpose.

We hear a lot that pets help teach children responsibility. This is true, but there’s more to it than that. Knowing that someone is dependent on your child for things like food, exercise, hygiene, and affection can help him feel like he is needed and appreciated. Caring for a pet that is solely his own responsibility helps him understand that he can give it things that nobody else can, which will teach him to value what he has to offer.

Pets can provide unconditional love and companionship.

Being a kid in this current generation is not easy. There is a lot of competition, comparison, and judgment coming at your children constantly in a variety of ways, whether that is toward what they wear, how they style their hair, what kind of music they like, and even what their core beliefs and values are. With all that they are bombarded with on a daily basis, it can be a very healing experience to come home to an animal that is ecstatic to see them and thinks they are the most amazing thing ever created! Animals love unconditionally because they don’t have the cognitive ability to be judgmental or critical, and that is a beautiful and necessary thing for children to experience in at least some capacity in their lives.

I am not suggesting that everyone run out and immediately buy a pet, nor am I implying that your children will be doomed to have poor mental health if there isn’t a pet in your home. The decision to own a pet is personal and, as stated before, can be complicated. I am only suggesting that, in the process of determining if a pet is right for your home, you take time to consider the ways in which a pet might provide assistance and support as you strive to grow your children into whole, complete, happy adults.

Christina Stai

Author: Christina Stai

Dr. Christina Stai is a licensed clinical psychologist in both California and Iowa. She specializes in young children and received her doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from Azusa Pacific University, an APA accredited school near Los Angeles. She completed an APA accredited internship and APPIC accredited postdoctoral fellowship at a residential emergency shelter with abused and neglected foster youth.  We are proud that she has joined Hope Springs.

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