PhotoChildhood pets leave behind more than fond memories. Their presence lingers on the minds and hearts of children for the rest of their lives, experts say.

In their wake, pets often leave behind valuable lessons that may help children grow up to become better people. But when it comes to coaxing forth these life lessons, parents play an integral role.

“Children learn about responsible pet ownership by observing their parents,” said Dr. Sara Griffin, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Responsible pet ownership, says Griffin, can help kids gain self-confidence and become responsible adults. And the positive effects of helping a child care for a pet can even extend to the family unit itself. 

Family bonding

Growing the family by four paws may help families feel more tightly knit. Whether you're walking the dog or enjoying the company of a cat, the increase in interactions between family members can spark quality time and bonding.

Children’s emotional development may also flourish under the friendship and companionship of a pet, says Griffin, who notes that "positive pet interactions with children can help develop non-verbal communication skills, compassion, and empathy in children."

In addition to the comfort and emotional support they provide, pets may offer kids a reason to step away from the TV or computer. But before parents agree to bring a pet into the picture, there are a few factors to consider.

Right time for a pet

Because adult supervision is crucial to the well being of the pet, parents should consider whether or not they have ample time and energy to devote. Food, water, and veterinary care needs must be addressed, and parents must also have the time to teach children through their actions.

“Parental involvement is necessary for any child learning to care for a pet,” Griffin says. “A child who learns to care for a pet may learn important lessons, such as how to treat people and animals with kindness, patience, and respect.”

Parents should also take into account their child’s age and how it will impact their pet care responsibilities. Toddlers, for example, may be able to feed a pet, but they shouldn’t be left alone with a pet. Older kids may be able to take on more walking, feeding, and pet clean-up responsibilities -- but still, there is no point at which kids can care for a pet without adult supervision.

But while they’re undoubtedly a big commitment of time, energy, and money, pets seem to make it their mission to pay you back tenfold. Kids and adults alike will treasure the loyalty and affection offered by the family pet for years to come.

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