How Pets Can Foster the Growth of Empathy in Everyone

There are many benefits for welcoming pets into your family. One of the best benefits is that they build empathy in your kids and yourself. You may have noticed at times that a very young child is happy and comfortable – they treat animals with care and love.

But, if a child is upset or has feelings of anger or powerlessness s/he might treat the dog badly – chasing, kicking or simply harassing an animal. If a child has no empathy for animals, it’s doubtful that s/he is very empathetic of others in the family or in school.

You can show your children and other members of the family how to be empathetic to animals and gain some empathy yourself. Give children responsibilities for the pets in your home. Teach them how to brush the pet or to be sure they have food and water.

The time and effort your children take to care for their pets will help them realize how much of an impact they have on the pets’ lives. You can also teach your children to be assertive if you have dogs for pets.

Teaching children how to issue commands to train their dog helps them learn assertiveness and take pride in what they’ve accomplished. Even if you don’t have cats or dogs as pets, children can learn empathy with pets such as a goldfish, bird or turtle.

Pets tend to give unconditional love, and that’s important for children to experience. The pet becomes more of a friend – one that he can talk to and hang out with when others are unavailable. The pet won’t judge the child and will likely be sensitive to a child’s moods.

A pet teaches a child that it is a safe place for the child to share their emotions without judgement or fear of retribution. The child becomes more confident because he can work out his emotions by verbally pouring them out to his pet.

As the child realizes his role in taking care of a pet, he becomes more in tune with the animal’s needs. That responsibility and caring attitude will follow him into adulthood and make his more aware of others’ needs.

Your child is less apt to become a bully if he has the responsibility of a pet. Bullies tend to have very little empathy toward others, but when your child experiences comforting an animal that is ill or scared of thunder and rain, he learns how to feel empathy.

And, it isn’t only children who can benefit from having a pet to care for. Adults who grow up with very little empathy can learn to be empathetic and having a pet is one way to achieve it.

Pets are also comforting to those who have experienced stress or trauma in their lives – such as PTSD or other physical and emotional challenges. Empathy can be learned, and some of the best teachers have four legs.

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