Is it important for children to have a dog while growing up?
Children, Dogs, and Families
Is it important for children to have a dog growing up? There are many, many, reasons, both pros and cons. Please understand that my husband and I have 2 cats and 2 dogs at home. We are always busy! Unless you are a seasoned pet owner, I ask you to think carefully about undertaking this additional responsibility in. your family. Having a dog in our home for the past 15 years has shown me both sides of the discussion. Having a dog is like having another child, believe me! 15 years ago, people made fun of us for having pet insurance. I am a huge advocate for pet insurance. In fact, about 3 weeks ago, our dogs escaped our little gate and had a chance to run through the house and Lexie found the cat toys that we have and swallowed every one of them. She vomited, but that did not get all of them out. It was an urgent situation and we had to take her to the vet ER. Hours later, they finished doing an ultrasound and endoscopy to fish out all the toys. Funny, now? Of course, to you, the audience, it is unbelievable. The reality is that Lexie’s life was at stake. Plus, a bill of $2700 is well worth it. If you cannot afford things like a large vet bill, do not even think about it. Fortunately, our pet insurance covered all but $500. Lexie is alive and thriving, never to think about cat toys again! (We hope!)
So, what is it about dogs that are so lovable and special to us as adults, but for this discussion, for children. I was talking with my husband the other day about our dogs and how much children love them and want to be with them when they come over to our home. Our new E.D (Executive Director), Natalie, who has 3 children and who adopted a dog, Ani, before her children would not do it any other way without a dog and her children! Dogs are like permanent members of your family frozen in time to be toddlers. I would say that they are great pets to have prior to having children. One of our social workers, Allyson, did it right as far as I am concerned. She and her husband bought a home, adopted a dog, and then had their beautiful son, Ronnie. Ronnie turned 1 in the Fall and has progressed so fast, having Scooter, their dog.
Dogs have been shown to help with better mental health, blood pressure, and even lower stress levels. Dogs have been shown to positively affect children growing up by promoting responsibility, scheduling and habits that prepare them for the rest of their lives.
According to a website named “Petsies,” dogs are valuable members of the family. I do stress, members as opposed to being just animals that are lucky to have you to live with. The article gives us some valuable ways that dogs positively impact children growing up.
Constant Companionship & Emotional Growth
Please forgive me, but if you are considering adopting a dog, puppies and dogs need social contact for their own development. If you are going to adopt a puppy or dog from a shelter, the professionals there understand that puppies should not be separated from their mother or litter before 4 weeks. Weeks 5 to 8 weeks (about 2 months) is better to wait before bringing them home. Puppies are more positively affected by being emotionally and mentally bonded with their litter and some, if taken too soon, may never fully recover. When we look at children, they too need social contact with parents, caregivers, and peers of their own age. If you decide to adopt a dog before having children, it is a wonderful idea to get used to some of the same things that dogs and children need to foster growth and development. Please do not misunderstand me, but I do think that people may not always be prepared for children. 50% of pregnancies, married or not are unplanned. Therefore, it takes you off-guard and you may not be ready for the responsibility of child rearing. Thank goodness you have 9 months to prepare and educate yourselves to proceed, or even more time if you choose to adopt!
In terms of emotional support for children, by their very presence, dogs provide security and take away the fears of sleeping alone in the dark. They also affect the consistency of what to expect for a child. Saying goodbye to the dog when going to day care and seeing the dog when coming home provides comfort and emotional support. The dog will be your child’s best friend. The dog is someone that your child can talk to with all his fears and concerns. The dog provides unconditional love and support to your little one. The dog is one of the most devoted supports in the entire family system.
Dogs provide magic in helping a child develop:
· Relax and reduce everyday stress
· Feel less lonely
· Something to care for and care for them in their own way
· More and better social interactions
Dogs have an impact on children and families, and lead more active lifestyles. Dogs need to exercise and walk. Walking with children allows increased socialization for children, family, and dogs. Thinking about exercise for all, such as our children, it is an opportunity to play catch with the dog or frisbee in the yard. The benefits are both physical and emotional. Not only would the activity benefit both parties physically, but it also provides an emotional bonding experience.
Here are the various physical activities that dogs, and children can be involved with:
· Daily dog walks
· Outdoor chasing games
· Frisbee or ball fetch
· Agility training
Motor Skill Development
Children need emotional support, caring, positive mental health, and learning stress reduction. In addition, children need to practice fine and large motor skill development. Part of motor skills involves the hands. Children need to work with their hands. They pet dogs, hold their leashes and when they get older, learn to give hand signals. All these things point to children’s motor developments.
Additional motor skills for children and dogs to learn are:
· Simple petting
· Running, chasing
· Tossing a ball
· Swimming (for selective breeds)
Cognitive & Mental Development
Pets provide a vital support system for our kids. A child with a dog will never feel alone, having someone to come to when they are feeling down or depressed. In fact, studies show much lower rates of depression among pet owners.
Young children should not be held solely accountable for their dog’s care and physical needs. This should be a joint venture between parent and child. That relationship of a parent teaching proper care of the dog is paramount to the parent and child’s bonding. However, please do understand that when a child begs for a pet, the adult must make a conscious effort to truly teach and be a role model for the child. Some type of sticker system could be in place for taking the dog outside and other various duties. However, all these things with a pet need to be age-appropriate behavior. I must stress that infants and young children should never be left alone with a dog or any animal. Although we love them like a member of our family, we do not know at any given time
that they are ill or feeling strange and could snap or bite. I also am working on my own two dogs on feeling comfortable with young children. I always supervise children with my dogs.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Parental involvement, open discussion, and planning are necessary to help make pet ownership a positive experience for everyone. A child who learns to care for an animal, and treat it kindly and patiently, may get invaluable training in learning to treat people the same way. The word is kindness and that is first when dealing with pets. Careless treatment of animals is unhealthy for both the pet and the child involved.
Taking care of a pet can help children develop social skills. However, certain guidelines apply:
· Since young children (under the age of 3-4 years) do not have the maturity to control their aggressive and angry impulses, they should always be monitored with pets.
· Young children (under 10 years) are unable to care for a large animal, a cat, or a dog, on their own.
· Parents must oversee the pet’s care even if they believe their child is old enough to care for a pet.
· If children become lax in caring for a pet, parents may have to take over responsibility on their own.
· Children should be reminded in a gentle, not scolding way, that animals, like people, need food, water, and exercise.
· If a child continues to neglect a pet, a new home may have to be found for the animal.
· Parents serve as role models. Children learn responsible pet ownership by observing their parents’ behavior.
Children raised with pets show many benefits. Developing positive feelings about pets can contribute to a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others. A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy. Pets can serve different purposes for children:
· They can be safe recipients of secrets and private thoughts–children often talk to their pets, like they do to their stuffed animals.
· They provide lessons about life, including reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement.
· They can help develop responsible behavior in the children who care for them.
· They provide a connection to nature.
· They can teach respect for other living things.
Although most children are gentle and appropriate with pets, some may be overly rough or even abusive. If such behavior persists, it may be a sign of significant emotional problems. Any child who abuses, tortures, or kills animals should be referred to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for a comprehensive evaluation. For many children, their first authentic experience with loss occurs when a pet dies. When this happens, children need consolation, love, support, and affection more than they need complicated medical or scientific explanations.
Children’s reactions to the death of a pet will depend upon their age and developmental level. Children 3 to 5 years of age see death as temporary and potentially reversible. Between ages 6 and 8, children begin to develop a more realistic understanding of the nature and consequences of death. It is not until 9 years of age that children fully understand that death is permanent and final. For this reason, very young children should be told that when a pet dies, it stops moving, does not see or hear anymore, and will not wake up again. They may need to have this explanation repeated several times.
There are many ways parents can tell their children that a pet has died. It is often helpful to make children as comfortable as possible (use a soothing voice, hold their hand, or put an arm around them) and to tell them in a familiar setting. It is also important to be honest when telling children that a pet has died. Trying to protect children with vague or inaccurate explanations can create anxiety, confusion, and mistrust.
Children often have questions after a pet dies, including: Why did my pet die? Is it my fault? Where does my pet’s body go? Will I ever see my pet again? Does my pet have a soul? If I wish hard and am really good, can I make my pet come back? Does death last forever? It is important to answer such questions simply, but honestly, using terms and concepts the child understands. You may wish to offer an explanation based on your family’s belief system or religious background. Children may experience sadness, anger, fear, denial, and guilt when their pet dies. They may also be jealous of friends with pets.
When a pet is sick or dying, spend time talking with your child about his/her feelings. If possible, it is helpful to have the child say goodbye before the pet dies. Parents can serve as models by sharing their feelings with their children. Let your child know it is normal to miss pets after they die and encourage the youngster to come to you with questions or for reassurance and comfort. There is no best way for children to mourn their pets. They need to be given time to remember their pets. It helps to talk about the pet with friends and family. Mourning a pet must be done in a child’s own way.
After a pet has died, children may want to bury the pet, make a memorial, or have a ceremony. Other children may write poems and stories or make drawings of the pet. Other children might want to pray for their deceased pet. It is usually best not to immediately replace the pet that has died. The death of a pet may cause a child to remember other painful losses or upsetting events. A child who appears to be overwhelmed by their grief and not able to function in their normal routine may benefit from an evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional.
There are several books which can help a parent talk to their child about the death of a pet. These include:
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown (HarperCollins) Badger’s Parting Gift by Susan Varley (HarperCollins) The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (Aladdin) Sammy In The Sky, by Barbara Walsh
Sammy in the sky is the beautiful story about a girl that loved Sammy, her hound dog. The pair did everything together. But as Sammy turns 12 years old, the family finds a bump in the dog’s neck. As time went on, the dog became terribly ill until one day he died.
The little girl and sister are very sad. The little sister even wants her dad to get a ladder and bring the dog down from the sky. But no ladder is that tall to get the dog.
As the summer draws to a close, the little girl’s grief changes, and although she still misses her best friend very much, she can now think of him and laugh at the good memories she has of Sammy. She knows he will always be with her in her heart.
It teaches young children that death is final in a very gentle way.
At the end of the book, the entire family celebrates the dog’s life and blows bubbles, because Sammy loved to chase bubbles. Most importantly, the family tells stories and remembers the best hound in the world.
It also talks about how grief changes to a more normal existence as grief wanes.
There is a lovely part of the book that subtly addresses the way grief behaves from a child’s perspective.
“As the summer days grew shorter, my chest stopped hurting when I thought of Sammy”.