An affinity to nature and animals is a trademark of many highly sensitive people, and that applies to kids too. A pet can provide tremendous benefits for a highly sensitive child (HSC).
When we moved house in 2017 one of the promises we made was that we would get a cat, and two rabbits. We had more space, both in and out of the house, and the children were old enough to be able to play their part in looking after them.
Not long after we moved we went to a local animal shelter. It was just to take a look. For ONE cat. (You see where this is going).
We walked though the various rooms housing cats. Some cats were lying around dozing lightly, wary and keeping a half eye on us. Other cats scarpered for dark corners and places to hide. Some cats approached us purring, making their personal case for a new home.
The last room we went into housed the few kittens the shelter had. There was a ginger, playing with a black and white friend. They ran from corner to corner, ducking and diving under and over anything in their way. They showed us that playful was their middle name. They both came over to us. They were instant hits.
They both came home with us. There and then. We had to borrow an animal carrier from the shelter and stop off on the way home at the pet shop for the essentials.
Those cats are now nearly two years old and are an integral part of our family.
Benefits of Pets for HSCs
A pet soon feels like a part of the family. They are always there, open to receiving attention and a cuddle.
When a cat comes and sits on a child’s lap whilst they are watching TV or reading a book a child knows they are not alone. They know have a furry friend to rely on, which can keep a feeling of loneliness at bay. This has benefits for a child’s emotional health and the development of it as they grow into adolescents.
Such companionship helps boost a child’s self-esteem and confidence, particularly if social anxiety plays a role in a child’s life.
Benefits Emotional Health
A pet can be an emotional anchor for a child.
A pet helps a child develop empathy.
A pet is loyal, non-judgemental and often tolerant of a cuddle or two.
A dog can make a child feel physically safe, a cat can feel like an emotional safety net to a child.
My boys (ranging in age from 7 to 12) always come in and give the cats a cuddle before they go to school, before they go to bed, or if they are in need of a pick-me-up quiet moment. There’s a natural emotional bond. A feline cuddle goes a long way in our house.
It’s not without reason why there are service dogs specifically trained to help children with sensory processing issues, anxiety and autism.
A pet is a stress reducer. The motion of stroking or patting a pet is in itself stress reducing, Cuddling a pet, or sitting snuggled up with a pet, reduces stress.
Just babbling about your day to a pet can help stress levels come down.
Our two cats are little furry lap ‘calmers’ for the boys.
Reducing stress has obvious physical health benefits, as well as emotional ones.
Allows Kids to Use Their HS Skills
HSPs are adept at picking up on the subtle signals, at understanding things that are not said. This trait makes a connection with animals easier.
This gives a child in particular a sense of pride, and shows a HSC a positive side to them being highly sensitive. My eldest displays this daily – he has an intuitive connection to one of our cats and he radiates pride as a result.
Many HSCs have a strong sense of nurturing, and pets are a good outlet for this need.
Pets Teach Responsibility
A pet needs to be fed. A dog needs to be walked. Cages need to be cleaned out. Animals need to be looked after when they are sick. Supplies need to be bought.
In short, having pets teaches a child responsibility.
Sometimes the needs of a pet comes before your own needs and a child certainly benefits from learning that meeting their own needs first is not always possible.
Pets Provide Routine
Many pets require a routine: feeding, exercise, cleaning and grooming. Most HSCs love routine and these tasks give structure.
Help Get Over Fears
I know a family who chose a dog as a pet, despite their daughter’s deep fear of dogs. In fact, they chose a dog because of their daughter’s fear. She is no longer irrationally afraid of all dogs.
There are HSCs who are afraid of certain animals, because of an incident, or without any explanation. A pet can help overcome these fears.
Dealing with Death
A pet will inevitably die. It will have a huge impact on a child, any child. But death is a part of life and losing a pet will help a HSC deal with the huge and important issue of grieving and death.
Last Words: A Warning
We currently have two rabbits and two cats. If my sons got their way we would also have: quails (just don’t ask), a dog, some kind of speaking bird and a guinea pig. There’s a line. And we’re at it with the four pets.
There are definitely huge benefits for any kid to have a pet, but here’s a warning that goes with extending your family. Do not, under any circumstances, think that your child will keep the promises they made about how they would do all the caring, walking and cleaning associated with a pet whilst BEGGING for said pet. They won’t.
If your HSC has had a bad day in school and you ask them to go feed the rabbits it’s a red rag to a bull.
Get a pet with this in mind…….but I promise the benefits outweigh this.