Pets bring joy and laughter to our families, helping to form priceless memories with our beloved companions. In addition to introducing physical responsibilities, pets can also help children to develop emotional intelligence at an early age.
1. Empathy. A core part of developing emotional intelligence is learning how to empathize with others. If we are able to imagine ourselves in another’s position, it provides us a greater capacity to understand and respond to whatever problem they are facing. When raising a pet, children learn the important concept of caring for something (or someone) other than themselves. Teaching empathy is all about love and acceptance, and caring for a pet is an incredibly valuable way to demonstrate these emotions.
2. Communication. With humans, a significant portion of how we communicate is non-verbal. Facial expressions and body language are core parts of how we show feelings towards one another. With animals, learning to recognize our pets’ moods and behaviors is an important part of raising them. Children will learn to understand the needs of their pets, which ultimately introduces a valuable lesson in empathy and emotional intelligence: consideration of others.
3. Expression. Pets are perfect emotional companions – they won’t judge you, and can remain a constant source of support during difficult times. With pets, introducing this idea of mutual support through unconditional love is an incredibly powerful way to teach the value of friendship while also helping children to develop emotional fortitude.
4. Confidence. Part of developing emotional intelligence is rooted in confidence. As we’ve discussed on many previous blogs, children should develop a growth mindset – the belief that they can overcome challenges and achieve success through perseverance and hard work. Working to build confidence, resilience, and self esteem are important parts of developing a growth mindset. Pets can certainly be frustrating, especially when training or forming initial bonds of trust. However, weathering through these difficulties teaches children the value of commitment towards a goal.
5. Stress reduction. We all know it can be harder to think clearly when under periods of stress. Anxiety often prevents us from seeing all the solutions currently available to us, and we’ve all been in situations where it can be hard to envision a positive outcome. With children, these emotions often present themselves during difficult situations or repeated failures (“That’s it, I give up!”). Pets are perfect anxiety-reducers – it’s a lot harder to feel bad with a happy dog wagging their tail in front of you, asking to go outside and play! What’s important is the clarity children receive after “cooling off” and reducing their stress levels. Suddenly, their situation doesn’t seem as dire as it did before! This in itself teaches a valuable life lesson – sometimes it’s best to step away from a problem for a bit and approach it again later with a fresh mindset. Most importantly, children should remember these situations next time they feel like throwing in the towel – it’s normal to get overwhelmed once in a while, and part of developing emotional intelligence is recognizing when we need a break.
For more information on this subject, check out our blog “Teaching Your Child About Emotions.”