Are Pets the Best Empathy Teachers for Kids?


There are few things that go together better than kids and their puppies. So many parents claim that they acquired their new pet as a way of teaching their children empathy and responsibility. However, is this method the best way to teach children these valuable emotions and responsibility? It is true that at the end of the day, the job of looking after these pets falls on the parent or other adults in the home. In fact, many kids may resent the added chore if they are not on board with having the responsibility of caring for another living being that is incapable of vocalizing when they need food or attention.

It is true that a dog or certain cats can teach children how to treat another living creature with kindness and respect. I have also raised my children with animals as much as possible; but I knew that it was up to me to ensure that the animal’s needs were always met to the best of my ability. However, there were situations when the children resented the chore of looking after these animals, especially when the novelty wore off and it was no longer as fun to clean a cage or pick up the waste from the yard.

In our case, there was a succession of pets that were the focus of attention for several weeks until the animal either messed up or became a nuisance that needed daily care and attention. When it came time to plan vacations or even day trips, the problem with what to do with the animals never occurred to even the older children. Instead, when I would mention what arrangements needed to be made for these pets, they often suggested that the animal be given away or taken to the shelter as soon as they became an obstacle to what they wanted.

On other occasions, the constant reminders to clean the cages of the smaller caged pets became a daily struggle. I would find myself nagging them to consider how these poor creatures felt by having to live in a cage that was less than fresh and clean. I kept hoping every day that the empathy would kick in and they would start to see the pet’s perspective. Sadly, this never seemed to happen. Smaller caged birds would sit in darkness because it became easier for them to quiet the pet by keeping its cage covered.

So, I became the one who would ensure that the animals we brought into the home were cared for in the manor that they required for optimum health and happiness. The kids never did seem to learn the empathy that I was hoping they would learn from these four-footed creatures. I also realized that the best way to teach empathy and responsibility is to model it ourselves.

Hopefully all parents will understand that the best model for their children is their own behaviors. If we react to those around us with compassion and understanding, then they will learn that the best way to learn about love and empathy is to give it.


Writer Bio:  Angela Mose

I am a mom of 7 who has successfully homeschooled for 20 years.  I was married for more than 25 years and have recently started my life over. I have a passion for writing and music and when the two can be combined, it is utopia.  A Maryland native, I am planning to relocate north in the near future and will continue to strive to learn and experience new things on a regular basis. I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home while exploring new ways to increase my knowledge and skills and help improve the lives of those around me.