• Elizabeth Goh

Pets are good for children…but are children good for pets?

Monday, November 20, 2017


There’s a lot of literature in parenting and early childhood care that promotes the benefits of children being raised with pets at home. But are the pets necessarily happy to have children around? 

Photo: Parents should oversee the pet's care even if they believe their child is old enough to care for a pet.

In my household, first came the pet, then came the pest... I mean, child. I tried telling my cat that pets and children are good for each other – having pets helps children’s cognitive, social and emotional development, as well as teaching them about responsibility and kindness. 


(Still, I don’t think she’s convinced that we should keep my son.)


She’s also given some tips to parents who are thinking of getting pets for their children: 


1. ​Don’t let them chase us around 


Being chased by a child is not a game. It is an attack by a pint-sized predator with grabby hands and a high-pitched scream. Children don’t seem to understand the threat that they represent. For some reason, the faster I run from them, the more they chase me.


(I don’t know about dogs, those silly things seem to enjoy chasing things like their own tails, so maybe they like having the tables turned. But big dogs can be rough and little ones think they’re bigger than they actually are.)


Variations on this rule: Don’t knock on the aquarium, the fish don’t like it. Trust me, I’ve tried.


​2. Pulling ears, whiskers and the tail is a no-no


Kid, do I look like one of your ridiculous toys with those buttons and gizmos all over it? My ears, whiskers and tail are attached to my body. Wanna know what happens when you pull them? I scratch.


Variations on this rule: I have it on good authority that you cannot get a tortoise to not come out of its shell by pulling its head.

Photo: Children are calmer and happier after playing with a pet, with raised levels of serotonin and dopamine.

SEE ALSO: Food Allergies in Children are on the Rise


3. The pet is not a squeezy toy 


My stomach is not your grandfather’s squishy, comfy potbelly. Do not rugby tackle me and squeeze any of my bits. I do not squeak in a cute manner, I snarl and hiss.  


(Again, I don’t know about dogs. They actually like having their tummies rubbed. But I wouldn’t squeeze any other part of them.)


Variations on this rule: This is especially important if the pet is a goldfish or snake. With different consequences.


4.​ Cat litter is not kinetic sand


So I pooed in the kid’s sandbox one time. How was I to know that those spades, buckets, excavators and trucks were his toys? Anyway, that doesn’t mean it’s okay for the kid to go digging in my litter tray. 


Variations on this rule: I’d like a little privacy when I go to the toilet. There’s really no need for the kid to stand at the door and narrate everything that I’m doing at the top of his lungs. (I know most moms and dads with toddlers have this problem too.)


5. ​Your child may turn into a mini tyrant


It’s bad enough being nagged by the adult humans about jumping on the couch or stealing food from the kitchen. Suddenly there’s a mini dictator in the house, scolding me in his little high-pitched voice? 


Kid, I know you were the one who knocked over that vase. So don’t pretend to be the good one in the house.


SEE ALSO: Raising Children with Empathy


Just like humans and mini-humans, each animal has its own personality. No two pets will interact in the same way with your child. 


The best thing that you can do for your child and your pet is to teach your kid to be a responsible pet owner from a young age. From there, your child will learn to be patient, compassionate and respectful towards all living beings. 



Elizabeth Goh used to be a full-time reader before she had her son. Now she only reads children's books. She uses all those words that she has picked up to write stuff for other people.







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