Spending time with a pet can be a valuable experience for a child, it was life-changing for Iris and I want to share with you some thoughts on how we can support, encourage and expand on these bonds to further our children’s development.
A French writer, Anatole France, once said that “until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” I have to agree with that statement. The strong bond between a child and an animal assists in development of important life and social skills, personality traits, responsibility and empathy. Having a pet in the home can improve the quality of life of the whole family, reducing stress and depression. Animals also promote physical and mental balance within the home.
According to the studies, pets allow our children to feel more complete, happy, independant, responsible, and affectionate. Feeling responsible for and taking care of an animal will greatly improve the child’s self-esteem. They will feel useful, know that they’re doing a good job, and gain a lot of confidence in their abilities. For special needs children the sensory input they receive and the calming influence is incredible.
A good environment that facilitates a relationship between the child and their pet will improve the child’s integration into the family. An animal can be a very strong uniting force between family members.
Learning to respect the pet from a young age will make the child aware of the need to respect other people, their surroundings, and the environment. They are an excellent source of support for children during hard times. The unconditional companionship of an animal can alleviate sadness and fear allowing the child to overcome their challenges.
So it is clear that children and pets are a natural match, but that doesn’t mean your child should be left to their own devices with the animal. To help ensure safe, happy interactions between pets and children I would advise the following
Actively Supervise Interactions – monitoring body language, the child’s and the animal
Teach your child through your own actions how to be gentle.
Provide a getaway space to use if needed
Reward based learning will encourage both of them.
Adults need to be aware of a pet’s body language with children and should be prepared to intervene if a pet starts to be anxious. It is also important to teach your child how the animal uses their body to express their emotions, and that these communications should be respected.
Greetings, affection and play provide a routine for both your pet and your child. Rewarding these encourages both your pet and your child, helping to teach your pet to associate your child with good things happening in the home. Encourage them to join you with the child while they play and have a think about how you can tailor their games, education to include the animal.
Here is an example of some home education games that I was playing with Iris but I also made sure it was safe for Thula too. Think about seating, make room for them to be included where possible.
In 2014, I based a whole term of Iris’s education around a ‘cat’ theme to encourage Iris’s academics but also it helped their bond to strengthen.
Praise them for making good choices, like leaving a sleeping or eating animal alone, calmly inviting a pet to approach them at their own pace, or using gentle hands to touch.
Rewards reinforce good behavior in your pet and your child, and can help to ensure that the two of them will form a lasting bond. But try to keep the following in mind: It can’t be forced. However, if the child takes on responsibilities like feeding the animal, giving them clean water, bathing them, taking them for walks, including them in their play and education, rides in the car… their bond will start to grow.