Pets and the Teaching of Soft Skills

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Photo: Manja Vitolic/Unsplash/Fp0EDCmjLBk

I was a late comer when it comes to pets. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties and living alone that it dawned on me that having a cat or maybe two (to keep each other company) seemed like a good idea. My cats provided some needed daily structure, too. On my worst of days, I knew I had to go out and get cat food or clean the litter box. More important than these daily tasks was the daily love and attention. Every cat lover or pet owner knows that each pet has his or her own character traits just like humans. One behavior I noticed between my two cats is that the younger and smaller one curled right up beside the older and larger cat when they napped. This connection was one reason I decided on a furry friend for my first cat. Not only was it cozy for him, but it reminded me of the empathy that existed in the world, and it grew on me. I wondered how my life would have been different if I had had pets earlier on. Would I have had more empathy?

In her article, “Family Pets Teach Children Empathy,” Megan Worthylake claims

“Teaching children empathy is very important. Empathy is good for humans because it is the ability to share and understand another’s perspective & feelings . . . what better way to teach compassion and responsibility than with family pets?”

Furthermore, she comments,

“As kids meet an animals emotional and physical needs, a child can grow into a caring adult.”

Amsterdam doesn’t have a lack of pet owners and pets, like anywhere else, although it might come as a surprise to some foreigners to see the dogs running loose or to see a dog running with or without a leash alongside a biker or “fietser” as they call them in the Netherlands. What is more unusual, at least to this American, is the number of children farms around the city — 2 just within a 10 and 20 minute walk of our home. We always called them pet farms because we found them to be just as entertaining for adults. According to the Gemeente Amsterdam, children’s farms have an important recreational and educational function. Children can discover the nature of animals while being shown the correct way of how to handle them.

In Amsterdam there are about 20 children’s farms. I would argue that these children’s farms also teach children how to treat other children or adults referring back to Worthylake. De Uylenburg, Nieuw-West is the children’s farm or “kinderboerderij” in the Rembrandtpark neighborhood. This farm has been around for 35 years and has big and small animals such as donkey’s, goats, pigs, chickens, birds, rabbits and geese not to mention two quite spectacular turkeys and the farm cat.

With a terrace and Rembrandt Park surrounding you can make a whole day of it — a day that can lead to a lifetime of personal and professional growth by nurturing the soft skill of empathy. An Arm the Animals article writes,

“Studies show that children who own pets have more empathy and nurturing ability, and as they grow into adulthood, essential skills to develop meaningful relationships”

Furthermore, Elizabeth Omerod, companion animal veterinary surgeon, and member of the Pet Health Council in London, England claims that children exposed to animals “have higher levels of self esteem, greater empathy, and better social skills.”

However, there are mixed reviews about the effects of pets on children. Hal Herzog, PhD reports in Psychology Today that Rand researchers concluded that the health and psychological benefits of pet-keeping to children are largely attributable to differences in wealth and social class. Though there is a lot of merit to that argument, other researchers, such as Dr. Layla Parast, argue against it due to first hand experience.

Out of all the soft skills, empathy, something I’ve argued here can be nurtured through pets, is the most important in the workplace. The Training Associates quote Stephen Covey as saying,

When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.

That is when empathy becomes indispensable to personal and professional success.

My name is Barbara L. Ciccarelli, PhD. I’m a writer and lifelong learner. I am motivated by the stories I hear and share in creating and by the natural rhythms of social life. My goal is to reach across borders of all kinds and form connections. For more of my blogs, go to Follow me on Twitter.

Writer, Faculty, PhD, Lifelong Learner. For more articles, go to

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