How Do Pets Help Children of Divorce

petsWhen a marriage breaks up and a divorce occurs children have to adjust to a lot of changes. Sometimes it means moving to another place to live or living in two homes. It also means many children have to give up a pet.

If the primary parent has to move to a smaller place or an apartment, the family pet may not be allowed. Even if it is a co-parenting situation, then a child may have to leave their pet behind on the week they go to live with the other parent.

Children get attached to their pets and kids of divorce get even more attached when they experience the break up of their family. I’ve had kids tell me their pet becomes their constant companion. They will talk to their pet and share their deepest thoughts with their pet. They also like talking about their pets. I’ve even had kids request prayer for their pets.

Most of us when we think about pets think about a dog, cat, bunny or maybe a caged bird. When children of divorce have to give up their primary pet, many will settle for some type of critter, like a guinea pig, hamster or some other small critter. These critters become just as important to them as a dog or cat. The smaller critters are small enough that they can travel back and forth between homes.

Whether it is a dog, cat or a smaller critter, these companions are very important to the child.

  • They allow the child to accept responsibility.
  • They keep a child from being lonely.
  • Pets can be loyal, non judgmental, and loving when the adults in a child’s life are not coming across that way.
  • They give the child something to love during a time when they might not feel loved by one or both of their parents.
  • They make the child cognizant of what it takes to care for something and to be attached to something.
  • A pet can become a child’s best friend during a turbulent time in their life.

New research is showing that a pet such as a dog can be therapeutic for child experiencing a crisis such as a divorce. A pet teaches a lot about coping skills at a time when their parents aren’t coping very well. Cuddling up to a dog and getting a kiss or a lick from the dog can be reassuring to a child. Petting a dog or a cat can be calming. Teaching a dog a new trick can be rewarding.

My own son got very attached to our dog Snickers when his dad left. Snickers was with us all through my son’s growing up years. When my son would come back from his dad’s he would scoop up that little dog and love on her. He would ask her questions such as

  • Did you miss me while I was gone?
  • Did you get lonely for me?
  • I bet you wanted me to come home and give you a hug?
  • Did you eat well while I was gone?
  • Were you worried I wasn’t coming back?

He would then carry that little dog around with him all evening. He probably didn’t even realize he was petting that little dog all evening as he watched TV. Or he would play ball or games with Snickers.

I learned a lot about my son’s feelings and also about the weekend with his dad by listening him talk to Snickers. And while I didn’t like it, my son allowed our dog to sleep with him. When my son was in elementary school we got into the habit of Snickers helping me wake up my son by digging for him under the covers. Many mornings my son would wake up giggling, as Snickers would scratch at the covers and plant kisses all over my son’s face.

Children’s ministers can invest in the life of a child of divorce by being interested in the child’s pet. Ask how their pet is doing. Request the child bring in pictures of their pet either on their cell phone or a photo. Perhaps a picture of the pet along with the child could be displayed on the wall in one of the children’s rooms. Get to know the dog and you’ll get to know the child a little better also.

For more resources and information on divorce, family disruption and modern families please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Divorce and Modern Family Help Center.

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on February 24, 2014.

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Written by Linda Ranson Jacobs

Linda Ranson Jacobs is one of the forefront leaders in the area of children and divorce. She developed and created the DivorceCare for Kids programs. DC4K is an international program for churches to use to help children of divorced parents find healing within the arms of a loving church family. As a speaker, author, trainer, program developer and child care center owner, Linda has assisted countless families by modeling and acting on the healing love she has found in Jesus Christ. Linda offers support, encouragement and suggestions to help those working with the child of divorce. She serves as DC4K Ambassador (http://www.dc4k.org) and can be reached via email at ljacobs@dc4k.org. You can find additional articles from Linda on her blog at http://blog.dc4k.org/.