Growing Up with Pets

Having a pet can benefit your child in a multitude of ways. Coreen Soh, Deputy General Manager, The Little Skool-House, shares her insights on adding an animal to the family.

Keeping pets at home with small children can bring many benefits. A pet can give companionship and comfort, help your child develop social skills and impulse control, enforce the need for discipline and routine, and provide hours of engaging play. But before you commit to pet ownership, there are a few important points to consider.

Apart from the obvious need to rule out any allergies among your family members, you should ensure that there is sufficient space in your home to accommodate a pet, be it a goldfish or a golden retriever. You should also make sure that you have enough time in your life to tend to its needs, from feeding to grooming and exercising.

Financial considerations should also be taken into account. Vets’ bills can be costly, and pet food is not cheap, especially if your dog or cat has special dietary requirements.

Once all the boxes have been ticked, and you have agreed to commit to a pet, it is a good idea to involve the whole family in the selection process. Whether you plan to trawl pet shops or hit the local animal shelter, children will feel a stronger sense of ownership if they are involved from the very start.

Coreen maintains that there is no ‘best type’ of pet as it depends on the family’s commitment level and physical environment. However, starting with a lower-maintenance pet tends to ensure a more successful first pet experience for the child. Popular ‘starter pets’ include guppies, hamsters and guinea pigs.

Buying a pet should be a family affair, with every family member on board and committed to caring for it. The joint effort of caring for a pet and sharing the funny and heart-warming moments ahead will encourage bonding between parents, children and siblings.


“Keeping a pet provides plenty of learning opportunities and joy for young children,” shared Coreen.

Coreen explained that in the process of learning about the needs and temperaments of their pets, children pick up new knowledge, words and information. This not only expands their vocabulary but also piques their curiosity about other animals. No doubt many a childhood dream of becoming a vet was formed through early interactions with a beloved pet.

Above all, keeping a pet can help teach children about the need for consistency and commitment.

“Taking care of a pet requires patience, a sense of responsibility and a degree of risk-taking. While children may like and even love their pets, they are often a little afraid or wary of them at the same time,” said Coreen.

Take hamsters for example. Many kids have a hamster as a first pet. While they enjoy petting and playing with it, they are also afraid that the hamster will bite, or fall off from their hands. The learning journey for the child includes overcoming fear, picking up the skills to train and manage the pet, and forming a bond that gives rise to hours of enjoyable companionship.

Interacting with pets at home provides a safe environment for children to nurture positive traits such as kindness, courage and empathy.

Children can start interacting with pets from when they are as young as four years old. However, parameters and safety precautions must be established.

Even with older children, adults should always be present during their early interactions with pets. A child should be taught basic handling skills so that they will not hurt the pet accidentally, which could cause the pet to injure the child in self-defence. Parents can read up and watch videos on pet handling with their child, then try them out together.


“Teach your child to respect the pet’s living habits, likes and dislikes, and always be gentle towards the pet,” advised Coreen. The same rules apply to interacting with people.

In the event that a child shows cruelty towards a pet, parents should explain in a firm manner that hurting animals is wrong. The conversation can be extended to asking children if they would like others to pull their hair or pester them. This will help them understand that we should treat pets how we ourselves want to be treated.

It could be said that almost everything that your child needs to know about treating people can be learned from owning a pet.

Animals’ lives tend to be relatively short. In the event of a pet’s death, parents can explain to their child that the pet was unwell and is now no longer suffering. They can share that the ‘death’ means that the pet has gone to sleep and will not be waking up. It is a hard lesson, but one that may pave the way for coping with future losses.

Here are some popular pets and their average life expectancies.

Type of Pet Average Life Expectancy (In Captivity)
Small Dog 13 years
Medium Dog 11 years
Large Dog 8 years
Indoor-only Cat 12-18 years
Cat Who Lives Outside All the Time 2-5 years
Goldfish 5-10 years
Koi 25-35 years
Budgie/Parakeet 5-8 years
Large Parrot Macaws: 50 years
Cockatoos: 65 years
Hamster 2-3 years
Guinea Pig 4-8 years
Rabbit or Bunny 7-10 years
Turtle/Tortoise 40-50 years


This article is taken from our My Alvernia Magazine Issue #37. Click here to read the issue on our website or on Magzter.