When Baby sits next to your pet, you might just be looking at the two cutest things in your life. When she starts pulling your pet’s fur or crying? Slightly less cute. Toddlers and pets both require a little help getting to their best behavior, but once they’re getting along well, you’re working with the dream team! Baby can help you out with pet chores, slip your pet the occasional extra treat, and learn all sorts of new things from Fluffy, Max, Lucy, or Buddy. She may also benefit from increased self-esteem, empathy, and social skills, all just from being around your pet.
Many pets, dogs especially, will be extremely patient when it comes to the curious tugging and prodding of toddlers, but even the sweetest pets have their limits. While Baby learns what Fido does and doesn’t like, she is also learning about boundaries and being kind.
If you have multiple pets, Baby might learn that while Spot loves getting his belly rubbed, Mr. Whiskers will respond to any belly action with a swift swipe of the claw. You’re never too young to learn that everybody has different preferences! You can help Baby out by explaining what your pets are likely to dislike before she has to learn the hard way, and by supervising their interactions to make sure nothing gets out of hand.
A pet can also be a great opportunity to start teaching Baby about responsibility. Having her clean a litter box on her own is probably a recipe for a huge mess, but having her do things like put food in the hamster bowl or take her with you as you take the dog out for a short walk will strengthen her bond with your pet and show Baby what it feels like to help out around the house. Once she has mastered one task, she can keep moving up to new things until she is running the whole house, right?
This is one of the more minor benefits of your little one having a relationship with your pet, but it’s still a positive thing! If your pet has a tank or habitat that needs to be cleaned, you can have Baby help clean it out and explain how staying clean helps your pet stay healthy. Just like Baby has to brush her teeth and pick up her clothes, your pet has to have fresh wood shavings or a clean bowl. With a pet like a dog, you can have Baby help give baths and show her how much fun it can be to get clean with a hose!
Not only will Baby have an automatic friend in your pet, but having their relationship will also enable her to make other friendships in life. A study done by researchers in Australia showed that as an adult, having a pet increases your interaction with your neighbors, leads to extra questions when talking to new people, and provides emotional and social support.
It’s easy to see how these findings can translate to toddlers. Baby will automatically be able to relate to other toddlers with pets, and they’ll be able to talk to one another about all their favorite things about animals. And if Baby forms a friendship with a toddler without pets, all the more reason for that friend to come over to your house and play with yours! Pets and children are both a lot of work, but seeing all of the positive influence they have in your life (and in the world!) makes it all worth it.
- Skerrett, Patrick J. “Pets can help their humans create friendships, find social support.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School. May 6, 2015. Web.
- Wood, Lisa et. al. “The Pet Factor – Companion Animals as a Conduit for Getting to Know People, Friendship Formation and Social Support.” PLoS One. April 29, 2015. Web.