Health Care Dialogue
By Kim S. Hwang, PsyD
Dear Dr. Hwang:
“Do you think children under twelve years old can have too many pets?” We have three children, two dogs, two cats, a guinea pig, a turtle and now one of our sons wants a fish tank with salt water fish. All three of our children are elementary school age, so we (I) end up taking on most of the responsibilities. My husband thinks that this is a great experience for our children to have. I think that I am having more of the experience than my children and husband put together.
Dear soon to be a Petting Zoo:
It sounds like your intentions are positive. Pets certainly require as much care as kids at times. They also bring an interesting dynamic to the household, which helps keep life from becoming stagnant. I hear several different questions within your inquiry. Yet, it sounds like maybe you are the one being left with the majority of the responsibilities?
I happen to think that pets generally are a great idea. This is my personal bias of course. I have pets and I grew up in a family with pets. In addition, all of my siblings have pets and their children have pets, so we’ve grown accustom to pets as a family norm. It sounds like your family enjoys having pets as well, but not the responsibilities that ensue as a result of being a pet owner. This is understandable. Pets can be a lot of work.
Yet, like most human life, pets need to be cared for and loved. It sounds like responsibilities around pet care need to be discussed and organized differently so that they don’t fall on one person, primarily you. Typically, children need to develop positive habits of responsibility, just like (us) adults. It may take some extra reinforcement and conversations for children to develop consistent habits.
At the same time, if all of the responsibility falls on one person in the family, maybe it is time to rethink increasing the livestock? It’s okay to realize the limits of time, life and what each person can reasonably handle. It’s hard to tack on an age criteria to pet care because each child differs considerably with what they are able to handle. However, I would recommend paying attention to the patterns of behavior in place. It sounds like your children are communicating some important information about what they might or may not be able to handle?
For what it’s worth, research indicates that homes with pets, reveals that humans typically live longer and experience less stress. Psychological studies and research generally indicate that pets typically help to mediate and reduce the stress of humans. Therefore, if having more pets increases your family stress, it’s likely not good for humans or pets.
Kim S. Hwang, PsyD has a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is an adjunct professor at the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology. Email questions to [email protected]
The purpose of this column is to invite you, the readers, to ask questions related to psychological and emotional healthcare issues that you are seeking an opinion. This column is not intended to diagnose or offer absolute answers. Instead, it is a very informal platform to begin a dialogue with you the reader, about psychological and emotional healthcare issues that you would like to discuss. Your identity will be protected.
Kim Hwang, PsyD