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Can Having a Pet Help With Social-Emotional Learning?

By Clare Schinzel

Every child dreams about having their own pet; whether it is running around the park with a greyhound or snuggling on the couch with a lazy cat, there is nothing more fulfilling than sharing a bond with a furry bundle of joy. However, not all kids get this opportunity. Bouts of irresponsibility, high costs, or hair allergies are just some of the reasons parents would say no to investing in a fuzzy friend. Practical as those reasons are, there are also underappreciated benefits to introducing animals into a child’s life early.

SEL––or social-emotional learning––is the process of developing certain social skills and awareness through different life experiences. Normally, students gain these life skills through repeated interactions with peers and adults. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and constant adherence to screens have made social skills a rare commodity in today’s youth. Luckily, having a pet could be a great way to get kids back on track.

For one, having an animal companion can help children better interpret the emotions of those around them. Animals can’t talk, forcing us to try to read their body language, movements, or even expressions for the answer––they could need to go to the bathroom, eat something, or just play a little, and it’s up to the child to decide how to satisfy the animal. This, in turn, also develops kids’ empathy as diving headfirst into their pet’s mind is critical to training and day-to-day exchanges.

Another great advantage of owning a pet is that it teaches children responsibility. Pets require a routine: they need to be fed, exercise, and have a decent amount of interaction with other living creatures––either with humans or different types of animals. It is up to the owner to establish that routine and guide the pet through it. And anyone who has ever owned a pet knows it isn’t easy. Kids have to learn to be persistent and a bit forceful to firmly establish the all-important owner-pet dynamic.

All of these tasks are going to have a positive effect on a child’s attitude. Successfully developing a relationship with an animal can easily be transferred to a human-human bond. Like training wheels on a bike, having a pet can be a child's practice attempt at how to connect with other humans. For example, just like people, animals can have a variety of personalities: some are difficult to connect with while others practically beg for affection. Learning to become amicable with a variety of types of animals can prepare children both for the easy and difficult human relationships in life. It helps them accept that––just like a particularly belligerent cat––not every human is going to be approachable. It is up to the child to decide how to interact with that person, whether it be with respectful distance or pleasant manners, and interpret if the person is worth pursuing or better left alone.

Overall, having a pet can be a great way to help kids navigate relationships and build self-esteem. Pets teach kids responsibility and the difficulties of establishing relationships, and both of these skills will greatly help children build up the social-emotional learning skills needed for success in life—and who knows, maybe along this learning journey, they could develop a furry friendship to help them navigate school life along the way, and that is a huge reward in and of itself.

Works Cited

“Benefits of Having Pets in Children’s Social-Emotional Development - Sinews

Multilingual Therapy Institute.” Sinews,

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Demir, Batuhan. “How Animals Can Improve STEM Learning?” Twin Science, 26 Aug. 2022,


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