(TMU) — For those of us who’ve had our lives enriched with new additions to our families—be they our children or new animal companions—it should come as no surprise that the benefits are myriad.
And for parents, while it may seem like too much work to bring a pet into the family—be it a cat, dog, guinea pig, or fish—the long-term gains of such a decision can far outweigh the costs.
In fact, studies have shown that children who grow up with pets often enjoy a major boost in terms of Emotional Intelligence or EQ, which can lead to better academic success not to mention an enhanced sense of responsibility, empathy, and a knowledge of the cycle of life that can equip children with a huge leg-up in life skills. As the Washington Post writes, “more than intelligence, EQ is the best indicator of a child’s likely success in school.”
And while children’s Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, is believed by experts to be unchangeable, one’s EQ can improve with practice. For children, having an animal friend can provide a great head-start to developing their EQ—which, in turn, can pay dividends in terms of our kids enjoying a greater quality of life further down the road.
Here are just a few of the EQ skills developed by children with pets:
Children with pets have an opportunity to learn some important lessons. In an overview of scientific studies on the subject, Nienke Endenburg and Ben Baarda wrote:
“If there are pets in the house, parents and children frequently share in taking care of the pet, which suggests that youngsters learn at an early age how to care for and nurture a dependent animal.”
Even children who are extremely young are capable of helping to care for and feed their pets, whether in tasks as simple as bringing them food or learning how to physically interact with their pets in a sensitive manner. And while children may require supervision in their first few pet interactions, these formative lessons in compassion, consent, and thinking about life beyond themselves can be crucial in terms of teaching some basics on empathy that apply to animals and humans alike.
Caring for animals offers a hefty set of responsibilities, whether it’s in respect to tasks as mundane as filling a water bowl or achievements as major as teaching your dog a new skill. For children, performing these tasks can lead to a sense of personal fulfillment, competence, and independence. As Endenburg and Baarda wrote:
“[A researcher] found that children’s self-esteem scores increased significantly over a nine-month period of keeping pets in their school classroom. In particular, it was children with originally low self-esteem scores who showed the greatest improvements.”
3. Cognitive Development
Spending time with pets can be extremely rewarding from a practical standpoint, whether in terms of acquiring linguistic skills or improving oral competency. Many children even love to conduct “story time” with their pets, reading aloud to their cats or dogs. As researchers explain:
“Pet ownership might facilitate language acquisition and enhance verbal skills in children. This would occur as a result of the pet functioning both as a patient recipient of the young child’s babble and as an attractive verbal stimulus, eliciting communication from the child in the form of praise, orders, encouragement and punishment.”
4. Stress Reduction
Animals can provide unmatched emotional support, weakening negative feelings and providing positivity like no other. In fact, researchers found that many children make a bee-line for their pets whenever they are stressed. For kids and adults alike, our pets provide a source of unconditional love and support. As we know well, us complicated humans can often muck up a situation with criticism, judgmental attitudes, and sarcasm—something our animal friends are never capable of.
5. A Keen Understanding of the ‘Cycle of Life’
For too many families, a discussion of concepts like birth and death is a real challenge that often doesn’t come until the death of a loved one—be it a child’s grandparent, an elderly relative, or a family friend. And with such losses come major pain and even life-altering trauma. However, children with pets can often learn important early lessons on the difficulties of life and inexorable nature of death. Endenburg and Baarda explained:
“The way in which their parents and others near to them deal with the situation will have an influence on how children cope with death in general throughout their lives.
At the other end of an animal’s life is birth. For most children the birth of animals is an exciting moment that can give parents the opportunity to explain how life begins and can form part of sex education.”
While every family has its own unique structure, demands, and needs—not to mention hereditary and genetic factors—a pet can serve as a major resource for children, especially youngest siblings and only children.
And it’s important to note that while these benefits can be powerful in people’s earliest stages of development, many of the above concepts apply equally to adults as well.
If any of the above concepts sound familiar to adult readers, that’s because some of the same benefits are relevant for grown-ups too, including the social support and stress reduction.