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How pets help children

Pets can instill a sense of responsibility in children, and have a positive impact on their social, emotional development

Growing up around pets has a positive impact on a child’s immune system(Unsplash/Picsea)

By Dr Nameeta Nadkarni

LAST PUBLISHED 02.11.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

Anyone who has brought a pet into their home can attest to how it has changed their life for the better. Children benefit from it too. Beyond the fun of playing and cuddling, pets offer all sorts of advantages for a child’s physical, emotional, and social development. 

The bond formed with a pet is often one of the purest relationships a child can experience. This companionship can be incredibly reassuring, particularly during times of stress, loneliness, or sadness. Children often confide in their pets, expressing their emotions freely—recognising them as non-judgmental listeners.

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Moreover, there’s evidence to support the positive impact of pets on a child’s emotional well-being. A 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics, found that children with pets tend to have higher self-esteem and better overall emotional health. Additionally, research from 2016, featured in the journal Psychology & Health, revealed that children with autism spectrum disorders experienced reduced anxiety levels and improved emotional regulation when interacting with therapy dogs.

Bringing home a pet can instill a sense of responsibility in children. Taking care of a pet imparts valuable life skills, particularly accountability and maintaining a routine. Children become adept at tasks like feeding, grooming, and exercising their pets. This daily routine ultimately prepares them for future responsibilities, whether it’s self-care or caring for their own families.

Growing up with a pet cultivates values like kindness, which naturally extend to their interactions with both people and other animals. Furthermore, children become more approachable, which in turn helps them build connections with peers who share their love for animals. This common interest can be a valuable tool for children to overcome shyness and social anxiety. Pets can act as conversation starters, making children feel more comfortable in social settings.

Spending quality time with pets has a well-documented capacity to reduce stress and anxiety. Petting a dog or snuggling with a cat can trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone linked to bonding and stress alleviation. This effect can be particularly beneficial for children who grapple with academic pressures or emotional challenges. The comforting companionship of a pet, particularly for those dealing with anxiety or night-time fears, can promote healthier sleep patterns, which are important for a child’s mental and physical well-being.

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Numerous pets, with dogs often taking the lead, serve as wonderful catalysts for physical activity. Whether it’s a leisurely walk, an energetic game of fetch, or various outdoor activities, pets keep children on the move, actively fostering a healthy lifestyle, especially in a modern world where screens and sedentary pastimes dominate. This helps stave off the early onset of obesity and related illnesses.

The influence of growing up around pets also extends to a positive impact on the child’s immune system. There is research to indicate that children exposed to pets from a tender age have a diminished likelihood of developing allergies and asthma. This early exposure plays a pivotal role in training the immune system to recognise and tolerate potential allergens, ultimately fortifying a child’s health.

In situations where some special needs children contend with physical limitations or medical conditions, pets can be invaluable therapeutic companions. For instance, therapy animals can provide vital support for children with mobility challenges, aiding physical rehabilitation and promoting enhanced motor skills. Additionally, the tactile engagement of petting or the sensory input offered by holding a pet can assist children in regulating their sensory responses and more effectively coping with sensory overload.

Owning a pet represents a substantial responsibility but the advantages it brings to children are unquestionable. They acquire skills that will prove invaluable in their future. Children who enjoy the companionship of pets also enjoy the simultaneous advantages of enhanced physical and emotional well-being.

Dr. Nameeta Nadkarni is a practicing veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.

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