Every time I see a black-and-white sheltie dog, I think of my first dog Muffett. She was the best! We did everything together as kids. But we didn’t just play together. Looking back, I realize now that she was an amazing teacher who also taught me many important life lessons. I just didn’t know it at the time! (When learning is fun, you don’t even see it happening.) And now with my own daughter, Indigo, I can see her, too, starting to draw important lessons from spending time with our dog and horses. I’ve come to believe that animals truly are influential teachers for children—and I wish every child had the opportunity to grow up alongside an animal. Here are three key life lessons kids learn from spending time with animals—either their own dog or cat, or by spending time with homeless animals at a shelter or in a classroom setting:
1. Compassion. Kids who grow up with animals understand that animals have feelings, too, and that helps to foster compassion, love and kindness toward both animals and people. Children learn to have empathy for a pet that is hurting—and they also come to realize they are much bigger than the animal, so they have to be very careful or the animal might get hurt. These lessons in kindness and sensitivity then translate to friends at school and people they encounter in the world as they grow up.
2. Responsibility. Kids who grow up with a cat, dog or hamster in the home learn the importance of feeding and grooming the animal, as well as how vital it is for the animals to have a clean bed to sleep on and clean water to drink. Managing these various tasks really teaches kids lessons in time-management and responsibility. Indigo is now of an age where she can help me feed, clean up after and take our dog, Mystic, on walks.
3. Respect and acceptance. Anyone who grows up with a cat in the house learns fast about respect—respect the cat’s boundaries (and be gentle and kind!), or you’ll get scratched. Animals are also influential teachers when it comes to teaching diversity about race. Cats, dogs, guinea pigs and so on come in all shapes and colors and sizes—and children learn firsthand that the animals really aren’t that different based on how they look. The same idea holds true when an animal is injured or disabled; kids learn that the cat with three legs is just like the cat with four—which ultimately leads children to have open hearts toward those who might be in a wheelchair or have other physical challenges.
What important life lessons did you learn from animals when you were a child?