I've always heard that pets were very theraputic for young children, but after reading two articles that shared this information in more detail, I am definitely interested in investing in a pet!
Pets have been shown to help children learn several social skills. They can gain a better understanding of others' perspectives, such as learning that a dog's tucked in tail explains that he's scared and a cat's arched back with fur standing up shows that it's angry or annoyed (Melson, 2007). With additional teaching, adults can compare this non-verbal communication with that which people use every day. Children can also learn self-calming and impulse control as they must remember to maintain body control when handling pets or the pets will not want to be touched or held (Flom, 2005). After learning this behavior around pets and comparing animal behavior to human behavior, they can also learn how their behavior affects how their peers respond to them as well. Taking care of pets can also teach child about responsibility for students who struggle to complete daily assignments or chores will see the benefit of reliability (Flom, 2005). In addition, students with hygiene and grooming concerns can gain a better understanding of the importance of regular cleaning and grooming without feeling ashamed (Flom, 2005). Often, these students don't see or understand why others make fun of them when they have not taken care of themselves.
Overall, giving children pets gives them the opportunity to build close relationships with others. They learn to give and take attention, nurture, and play appropriately with an animal and they can learn to do the same with a peer as well (Melson, 2007). Here are some things to think about when considering including a pet in your family:
1) What kind of pet is most appropriate for my child? Check with a pet store and bring your child if possible to help make the decision.
2) If I'm not going to have a pet in the family, what are some other ways that I can include animals to help my child understand social skills? Perhaps play with animal puppets? Borrow a friend's pet for the day? Visit the zoo or aquarium?
Parents can also read fictional animal stories to teach social skills in a playful manner. Arthur and Berenstein Bears books often discuss typical issues that occur in life and families can read them and discuss problem solving afterwards.