I believe that it is widely recognized that a child's relationship with a companion animal is of great benefit, actual and potential, to the child. The animal will also benefit provided the child interacts in a proper way with the animal. In fact the better the child interacts with a companion cat the better it is for both parties to the relationship as cats respond to circumstances. Create a good environment and you'll receive the rewards. Children also gain from relationships with symbolic animals.
The benefits to a child of interacting with animals is so well established that there are professionals who treat children with "behavior problems" using therapy animals. By the way I think there are a lot of professional misjudgments made regarding so called behavior problems in children. A lot of normal behavior in children is considered problem behavior because it does not fit in with modern adult perceptions as to what is acceptable. That strikes a cord with what I call expectation management in respect of adopting a cat and cat caretaking.
Examples of the "skills and values" that can be gained by a child through a relationship with a cat companion are:
Learning about mutual respect.
For me, this is very important. One reason for the breakdown in modern society in Britain is the lack of respect some young people have for others: people and animals. A major factor is the breakdown of the family unit. Through good parenting children learn respect. Knowing the benefits that a companion animal has to children, I would argue that good parenting should include providing a child with the opportunity to interact with a companion animal. The domestic cat is the most popular companion animal (just over the dog) in the modern age.
If a dislike of cats is handed down through generations within a family it is the child who is prevented from having the opportunity of the benefit of interacting with a companion animal. Although controversial, I would argue that a dislike of cats is due to an ignorance of cats. Ignorance is at the root of the problem. Education, as usual, is at the root of the solution.
All children should learn to respect animals. That leads to respect of people and to a generally better society for companion animals and people.
Companion animals are vulnerable in the human world. We need to be kind to them. Dealing with them responsibly and properly teaches kindness. Kindness is a great quality in a child.
Humane treatment of others
With companion animals the human has choices. We create the environment under which our cat companions live. We can treat animals well or badly. Often we don't have choices about how we are treated. A child interacting with a companion animal can learn how to treat others humanely. The benefits of humane treatment can be learnt. The impetus for treating companion animals humanely comes from a child's parents and to a lesser extent teachers.
Giving and receiving love and affection
Everyone who has cared for a cat in a responsible and caring manner has received the beautifully simple and uncomplicated love and affection that comes from the human/cat relationship. Children should feel that. It makes them better people.
All children need to learn these skills; caring for others. It builds a better person. Caring for a companion cat or dog is a very rewarding and an ideal way to pick up these skills.
Children need to gently take on the burden of responsibility for others and their own actions. When they are adult they will be burdened by it on all fronts. What better way to learn responsibility than looking after a companion cat.
The pain of loss
Companion animals have much shorter lives than ours. It is likely that a child who has cared for a companion cat throughout his or her childhood will have to deal with the pain of the loss of his friend. It is a very painful experience. It is unfortunately, necessary to learn how to come to terms with it.
On the other side of the coin, a post on children and cats cannot overlook the abuse of cats by children. This is a complicated area of child psychology. I am layperson but common sense dictates that if a child abuses animals it is something he or she has learned from watching others or through suffering abuse himself. This is likely to happen in the family home as that is where interpersonal behavior takes place most often for the child.
Associated pages: How to tell cat abuse - Kids killing cats.
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