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pets foster empathy

3 Ways Pets Foster Empathy

Why Fido--or your favorite feline--is your household's best empathy teacher.

By Ada Calhoun

Ada Calhoun is a freelance journalist living in New York City.  She is the author of Instinctive Parenting: Trusting Ourselves to Raise Good Kids. Ada was the founding editor-in-chief, from 2006-2009, of, the online resource center for "a new generation of parents," which earned a Folio Silver Medal and an ASME nomination for best online magazine.

May 28, 2012

How do pets help children develop empathy? Read on, and you might give your child's pleas for a puppy a second thought.

1. Caretaking is a skill that can be transferred to people.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), “A child who learns to care for an animal, and treat it kindly and patiently, may get invaluable training in learning to treat people the same way…Positive relationships with pets can aid in the development of trusting relationships with others.  A good relationship with a pet can also help in developing non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy.”

2. Having animals around helps children relax.

“Humane education programs aimed at promoting empathy development and pro-social behaviours in children possessing compromised levels of these constructs may be more effective if they incorporate non-human animal and interaction with them,” according to Promotion of Empathy and Prosocial Behaviour in Children throughHumane Education by Kelly L. Thompson and Eleonora Gullone ( ) “Such attraction to other sentient beings is likely to increase the efficacy of intervention efforts since children are more likely to be attentive and to have increased motivation levels if animals are involved.”

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3. Pets help children learn to share their feelings.

According to AACAP, children feel they can tell their secrets to their pets, much as they do stuffed animals, and this helps them feel listened to, and to practice sharing private stories with other people.


contributions from Frankie Thomas and Ilya Tsinis