Kids & Animals - Empathy through Caring for Living Things

Posted by Kate Spears on
Animals can teach kids so many great life lessons
Depositphotos © RobHainer

PBS Parents recently released an article about how caring for living things teaches empathy to kids. From something small like a plant or fish, to a dog or cat or even a human baby, there are many lessons to be learned from providing different levels of care to those who depend on us. 

In her weekly radio show Get Ready To Learn, Cindy Putman touched on this topic with guest Sarah Nelson, a local farmer and healthy living advocate. Sarah shared some of her thoughts beyond what was discussed on the radio in this special guest blog. 


Children and animals make a great team for many reasons.

The physical and psychological benefits are many:

Pets get us outside - This includes walking and playing and breathing in that all important Mycobacterium vaccae that we come in contact with when we spend time in nature. In a study by Matthews DM, Mycobacterium vaccae has been shown to reduce anxiety-related behavior and improve learning in mice. 

Pets can make us healthier - The Journal of Pediatrics states that children who have lived with a dog during the first year of life have a higher immune response with 31% fewer respiratory tract infections than those without.

Pets help us become better people - Pets develop in us wonderful characteristics such as compassion, responsibility and empathy. Children who struggle with reading often improve when they have a pet to read to, and pets also provide an all important listening (and non-judgmental) ear when children need someone to talk to.

If owning a pet is just not possible for your family, consider other opportunities that will allow you to spend time with animals and help your community such as volunteering at an animal shelter.

You may consider signing your child up for horseback riding lessons. Dr. Ann Swinker, PhD, a professor at Penn State, found that children involved with horses have better problem solving, goal setting and decision making skills. Riding horses increases your focus often making it possible to succeed more easily in other areas of your life as well. 

Safe Harbor Equine and Livestock Sanctuary is one of the agencies that I volunteer with from time to time. They often host excellent horse camps and other events for young children.

Working with rescued animals is a unique way to teach children the value of caring for all creatures, and unfortunately, sometimes also provides the opportunity to explain what “abuse” is. For abused children, the opportunity to be a care giver can interrupt the tendency to repeat that abuse

Another group that I volunteer with is Big Fluffy Dog Rescue. Big Fluffy gives middle Tennesseans the opportunity to foster (and rescue – usually from a high kill shelter) a dog before the animal is transported for adoption out of state. In most cases, this fostering period is relatively short, and you can choose when and how often you participate. The agency pays for all approved medical expenses for the dog.

The foster family’s job is to feed, love and help turn Fido into a well-adjusted family pet suitable for adoption. Dogs range from the very young to the very old - big, small and all sizes in-between. Big Fluffy has a wonderful online community where fosters can talk about their experiences, and in many cases, foster families receive updates on their foster dog from the adopted family. You even get “first dibs” if you fall in love with your foster dog.

One final, and wonderful, way to get your child involved with animals is 4-H. 4-H teaches many wonderful life lessons to children, but one of my favorites is record-keeping (of time, activity and money spent). This skill is something children will use their whole life.

Find a way to get your child up close to something warm and fuzzy today!

Sarah Nelson

Naturally Nelson’s Farm

Tune in each Saturday morning at 9:30 for the WCTE Get Ready To Learn Radio Show, with host Cindy Putman on Zimmer Broadcasting's The HUB 107.7 FM and 1400 AM. 

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