Family Pets Teach Children Empathy

By Megan Worthylake

Developing a bond between children and animals in crucial to both of their mental health.
Developing a bond between children and animals is crucial to the mental health of both.

Teaching children empathy is very important. Empathy is good for humans because it is the ability to share and understand another’s perspective & feelings – to consider it before acting. Most guardians want to teach their children to abide by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and what better way to teach compassion and responsibility than with family pets?

Pets have valuable lessons to teach us, and if we pay close attention, we can learn how to integrate these lessons into our children’s lives. Pets and children can share a deep, valuable bond. Although the way animals are treated by the family strongly influences whether or not children learn to treat other living beings with kindness and respect. The mere presence of an animal does not make kids more compassionate if they are not properly treated.

If an animal is being tugged by a two-year old, it’s unfortunately often less than empathetic. A young child expresses their affection this way because they are fascinated

A group of school children touring the shelter and learning about proper animal handling.
A group of school children touring the shelter and learning about proper animal handling from a BHS adoptions counselor.

by all kinds of furry friends. It may seem harmless for youngsters to hug, poke and squeeze animals but psychological studies have consistently shown that the way humans treat animals is strongly related to the way they treat people. A child who holds onto a struggling animal learns to ignore the needs of their pet, and put their own needs first.

Guardians such as parents or grandparents can plant the seeds of empathy by redirecting their children to encourage nurturing and responsibility. Having a family pet puts children in the position of a caregiver. Children soon learn that if they want to be loved & trusted by the household dog, they’ll need to treat him with consideration. They’ll realize all living things have feelings and that their actions affect people and events. Children will begin to understand social responsibilities as they respond to their pet’s needs, whether it is helping to fill up the water or to pour a cup of dry kibble into the cat or dog’s bowl.

Children learn by example. When they see their caretakers, parents and grandparents, making an effort to properly care for animals, they understand it is the right way to treat others. Animals have a great amount of empathy and play such an inspirational role in our lives. A pet can easily become a child’s best friend. These human-animal relationships strengthen a child’s moral development. As kids meet an animal’s emotional and physical needs, a child can grow into a caring adult.

If you think it’s the right time, consider adopting a precious animal from your local shelter. You’ll be amazed at the character traits children develop!


Megan Worthylake is a community outreach intern at Butte Humane Society, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in Chico, California, dedicated to saving lives, finding homes, and inspiring compassion. Visit us online at


Actions you can take to help the animals at Butte Humane Society: