3 Ways Pets Can Teach Compassion To Children
Articles and research abound on the multitude of ways pets can help in teaching responsibility to children. Also how having pets in the home can actually improve a child’s health and mental well-being.
One point often overlooked, however, but equally important is how pets help children develop compassion. We are living in times where children are growing up in a self-absorbed world. Most everyone is walking through life with their heads down, consuming the latest technological gadget and compassion for others can sometimes get lost by the wayside.
Well-meaning parents may speak to their children about the importance of caring for others. They may even make a point of showing compassion and care by example. Most times, however, the best way for our children to learn is by actual “hands-on” experience. That’s where having pets can be the best teaching tool available.
Pets demonstrate to a child that sometimes we have to put our immediate needs and wants behind another who cannot do for themselves.
My 14 year old daughter was begging for a puppy. My husband and I finally agreed to adding a puppy to our family with the understanding that she be responsible for the feeding. Of course, she enthusiastically agrees to the terms. In the beginning, as it usually goes, she would eagerly get up every morning a little earlier than usual to have time with preparing the puppy’s food before getting ready and dressing for school.
After a few weeks, the novelty of having the puppy began wearing off and she was missing her extra bit of sleep. She began expecting that I would take over the chore. When explaining that I was not doing it; this was something she had agreed to do, she quickly realized she had no choice. The puppy obviously could not feed herself. My daughter was needing to plan accordingly, get up a little earlier and feed the puppy every morning. Once it became routine, she began adjusting and they have since developed such a beautiful and strong relationship with each other.
You can’t just expect that trust and forgiveness are going to be freely given. You have to earn it.
We also have two rescue cats in our family. Our oldest cat, Oliver, was only 8 weeks old when adopting him. At the time, our daughter was about four years old and still learning the concept of “being gentle” with the pets. She would vigorously pat their heads or attempt picking them up around their necks or by their legs. I of course was always keeping a close eye on her when she was around the animals. I was coaching her through picking them up or rubbing them; always reminding her to be gentle.
As a result, however, Oliver, found her terrifying; and with good reason. He was a sweet, cuddly, cute kitten and my daughter was constantly picking him up and kissing him. Due to her abrasive nature, he was always running and hiding from her.
Even a few years down the road, when she was learning to properly handle the pets, he was still apprehensive. This of course was upsetting to her. I had to explain that Oliver was remembering her abrasive actions and he was still recovering from that. It took quite a few years for him to begin trusting her but it did eventually happen and he now freely curls up on her lap and nudges her legs for a quick rub. My daughter learned that even though she never meant him any harm, animals, just like people, need nurturing and trust has to be earned.
You have to give love to get love. It is a beautiful, reciprocal relationship.
I can honestly state that the most rewarding gift of having pets around the home is the beautiful “give and take” relationships between our pets and each other. We each have a special bond with our two dogs and two cats. The pets all have different personalities, just as we do, and although having pets is hard work, the special bonds are well worth it all. It is also fun and such a joy watching the cats and dogs interact and co-exist together. We consider our pets a part of the family and believe me, they know it.
Is compassion something that can even be taught or is it more of a character trait – you either have it or you don’t? Although the concept is debatable, children growing up surrounded by pets are continuously put in positions where they have the responsibility of caring and showing compassion for another living being. A being who is dependent upon them for their happiness, well-being and sometimes even survival.
Being responsible for this type of care on a regular basis, through the formative years of childhood, will help develop life-long habits that will surely extend to all living things.
I can’t think of a more rewarding way of teaching compassion to a child than by welcoming a loving pet into the home. Your child will grow up with wonderful, loving memories of their childhood pet as well as learning valuable lessons in the process.
So when you are considering all of the positive points of adding a pet to your family, don’t forget about compassion. After all, we can always use more of that in our world.