At first glance, it seems like children and pets have a lot in common. They sleep a lot but always wake you up entirely too early. They whine when they want food. You have to clean up their potty messes. But all the headaches disappear when you burrow your face into their tummies and smother them with kisses.
Despite these similarities in caring for a baby and fur baby, some parents feel overwhelming apprehension at having a pet in the same household as a wee little child. We’ve all heard the bit about a cat “sucking the baby’s breath away” (myth!) or the notion of “I just won’t have time for Mittens The Maine Coon once our baby is born.”
Au contraire, my worrisome procreators. Your precious tot can reap some major rewards from growing up alongside a loving furball.
Listen Up: Timmy’s Gonna Get A Four-Legged Education
These aren’t lessons the lil guy can learn from his picture books.
Timmy starts to understand responsibility.
Whether Timmy actively participates in taking care of Mittens or he simply sees you feeding, bathing, and cleaning up after your pet, Timmy instinctually comprehends the value in taking care of a living creature that has basic needs, just like we do.
Crank up Timmy’s self-esteem.
By now, we’ve all seen those heartwarming photos of children reading to shelter pets. Timmy needs a captive, nonjudgemental audience to build his confidence when he reads - and wagging tails and sweet eager faces provide exactly that. In fact, one study observed children’s stress level as they read in front of a dog, an adult, and another child. The results indicated that kids were most at ease when reading to the animal.
Timmy develops compassion for his companion.
Since Mittens looks like a giant cuddle toy, Timmy’s gotta learn that Mittens can experience the same emotions as humans - fear, confusion, excitement, and love. The earlier that Timmy establishes a gentle, affectionate relationship with Mittens, the more likely he’ll retain a life-long bond with animals.
Mittens encourages Timmy’s nurturing nature.
If you’re a nurturing person, chances are you didn’t suddenly morph into one during your adult years. No, you probably got an early start and practiced as a kid. Caring for a pet can instill the beginnings of good parenting skills (which a future spouse will certainly appreciate, way down the line). And since most young girls gravitate toward dolls while boys are inclined to bash their action figures into the ground, the gender-neutral duty of looking after Mittens will provide a task that he can feel good about.
A Positive Impact On Your Whole Brood
Say hello to a better bill of health.
New parents probably have a cabinet full of antibacterial soaps, wipes, and ointments, but did you know that a family pup can boost your tot’s immune system? For real. By exposing Timmy to germs during the early years, his body learns to fight them off. A 2012 study concluded that kiddies with doggies were generally in better health during their first year and suffered from fewer ear infections and respiratory issues. Another bonus: it’s been shown that having a household pet can decrease the risk of allergies by 50%.
Pet play time = family bonding time.
Instead of TV or a movie, let your pet be the center of attention for family fun. Take your dog for a long stroll together. Get on the ground and play with Mittens. (Timmy may enjoy the laser pointer just as much as Mittens…or more.) Quiet chill time with your clan, including the 2-legged and 4-legged members, lets you all unwind from the stresses of a busy schedule together.
Mittens can help lessen the stressin’!
Sure, yoga and meditation reduce anxiety, but so does your pet! Brushing, cuddling, and petting your beloved furry friend is known to lower stress in both adults and children. One study asked 5-year-olds with pets what they did when they were upset, scared, or angry, and nearly half said they turned to their pets. Parents noted that kids who had pets seemed less anxious and withdrawn.
Paws, People, And Keeping The Peace
Caring for a pet = lots of work. Caring for a child = lots and lots of work. Caring for a pet + caring for a child = absolute mayhem if you don’t plan ahead and organize. The key is to do everything you can in advance, and create an atmosphere where everyone feels secure and happy.
Routines are your new BFF.
This applies to everyone - children, cats, and dogs. Establishing a schedule for mealtimes and playtimes, and sticking to it, will make your life (and theirs) easier. Cats and dogs thrive on consistency, and the more methodical you can make your routines, the less you’ll worry. Set up daily alarms for dog-walking time. Play with Mittens at the same time each day. (And if you can’t, make sure another family member can.) Use an automatic pet feeder, like our SmartFeeder, to incorporate consistent and easy pet meals. Steady habits = peace of mind.
Prepare your pet.
Some simple home maneuvers can make a world of difference in getting kiddies and pets used to each other:
- Make sure your pet has his toys, and Timmy his has own.
- Show Timmy how to be gentle when petting - with an open hand, and absolutely no fur grabbing or pinching.
- Let your pooch sit in during baby-related tasks, like changing a diaper.
- Create certain zones that are off-limits to your pup (think baby gates) so Timmy can have areas just for himself.
- Speaking of zones, keep Mitten’s litter box in a no-Timmy spot - Mittens shouldn’t have to worry about being interrupted during “business time.”
- Give Mittens safe spaces where Timmy can’t reach him - up high (think cat towers and perches).
Most of all, always keep a watchful eye. Your pet is a member of the family, and deserves to be treated as such. And when Timmy gets old enough to be aware of the importance of this bond, will be eternally grateful for his childhood pet.