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Does your child’s class have a pet? Whether it’s a rabbit, a hamster, or other kid-friendly animal, here’s why the experience is helpful—and how you can make it even better:

Seeing the benefits Studies have shown that the presence of animals in the classroom can help kids develop a sense of empathy, says Beth Daly, Ph.D., a professor of education and anthrozoology at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. Plus, teachers interviewed for the research also felt the pet helped kids focus and improved their general socio- emotional development in the classroom. That’s because having a pet elicits a relaxed, warm, and nurturing response in kids, making them both calmer and concerned for the animal’s well-being, says Daly.

 Bringing home Fluffy While Daly says that it can be tough on the pet to have students take it for the weekend, if your child’s school requires or encourages it, the experience could tap into your child’s sense of responsibility. To help, be sure your child focuses on how to properly care for the animal while it’s in your home, like making sure it’s fed fresh food daily and gets lots of attention. It’s also important to give the pet wiggle room. “Don’t just keep it in the cage,” says Daly. (So if your child brings home a rabbit, make sure you let it hop around—while you supervise, of course.)

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