How Pets Encourage Emotional Intelligence

Pets Are Important For Kids

Anyone who grew up with a pet knows that it is a wonderful part of childhood (and life). We love our pets as adults, but as children the bond is often even stronger.

They are our companions, our playmates, our confidants. They listen, play and sometimes talk back! Did you know that all of this is not only positive and creates wonderful memories but actually helps a child develop in the area of emotional intelligence (EQ).

In the excerpt below we learn more about this relationship between pet ownership and EQ, and look at two specific areas where this benefits children.

If you’re a parent, the idea of adding the care and feeding of an animal to your responsibilities might feel like too much work. But having a dog, cat, bunny, hamster or other animal as a part of the family benefits kids in real ways.

Studies have shown that kids who have pets do better — especially in the area of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which has been linked to early academic success, even more so than the traditional measure of intelligence, IQ.


Caring for pets also builds self-esteem because being assigned tasks (like filling the dog’s water bowl) gives a child a sense of accomplishment and helps him feel independent and competent. Pets can be especially good for children who have very low self-esteem: “[A researcher] found that children’s self-esteem scores increased significantly over a nine-month period of keeping pets in their school classroom. In particular, it was children with originally low self-esteem scores who showed the greatest improvements,” write Endenburg and Baarda.

Cognitive development

Kids with pets play with them, talk to them, and even read to them (that last activity is more common than you’d think), and the data backs up the idea that this additional low-stress communication benefits verbal development in the youngest kids. “Pet ownership might facilitate language acquisition and enhance verbal skills in children. This would occur as a result of the pet functioning both as a patient recipient of the young child’s babble and as an attractive verbal stimulus, eliciting communication from the child in the form of praise, orders, encouragement and punishment.”

– via MNN – Mother Nature Network

Pets Teach Children Empathy

Caring for a pet and having a pet in the home is one of the best ways to teach children empathy. Recently employers have said that empathy is one of the main traits they look for when hiring. So this trait will help your children all of their lives in many arenas.

In the excerpt below we learn about this process.imrs.php

Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

One of the greatest lessons of my life came from a dog. It was Christmas Eve, 1989, and our house was burning to the ground. As we stood in the snow in our jammies, our Newfoundland, Alfie, kept running back toward the house to make sure all the children were out and that everyone was safe. (We were, thankfully.) It was the most selfless, unconditional act of love I’d ever witnessed.

By developing empathy

One of the cornerstones of EQ is empathy, which should be taught and modeled starting in early childhood. A variety of research in the U.S. and U.K., including by the late psychologist Robert Poresky of Kansas State University, has shown a correlation between attachment to a pet and higher empathy scores. (This is hardly a new idea: Philosopher John Locke in 1699 was advocating giving children animals to care for so that they would “be accustomed, from their cradles, to be tender to all sensible creatures.”) The reason is obvious: Caring for a pet draws a self-absorbed child away from himself or herself.

Empathy also involves the ability to read nonverbal cues — facial expressions, body language, gestures — and pets offer nothing but nonverbal cues. Hearing a kitten yowl when it wants to eat or seeing a dog run to the door when it wants to go outside get kids to think, “What are their needs, and what can I do to help?” – via Washington Post

Do you see your children developing emotionally as they care for their pets?

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