The importance of children having and interacting with a companion pet is often overlooked in studies, and therefore also in public. Children not only develop better social skills and self-esteem, they are also less likely to become lonely.
A new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/14/3/234) concludes that owning a pet may be beneficial to many aspects of a child’s development.
When children are toddlers, they begin to explore the world and mimics the behaviour they see. The body language and behaviour of a pet is straight forward, given the toddler a safe environment to explore social behaviour and practice verbal skills. At first, the pet will tirelessly listen to the random words from the child and be the centre of conversation. The easy life of a pet is easy to talk about using words the child knows from itself; ex. eat, sleep and play. Later the toddlers will give the pet praise, encouragement, orders and punishment, emulation the behaviour from the parents, and practicing the use of words and tone of voice. Pets are patient and forgiving when toddlers makes social mistakes.
The affection of a pet helps children with their ability to bond by allowing them to experience a meaning full and trustworthy relation. This aids them in developing empathy and emotions they need for social interactions. The undivided attention of a pet makes the child feel valued and important, which can lead to a confident desire to learn more, thereby increasing their skill set at home and in school.
As children approach adolescence they find themselves in need of emotional support, and the devoted pet, which always listens, reduces loneliness and depression. The silent reliable companion will listen and cuddle regardless of the topic, allowing the teen to speak her/his mind without judging or second-guessing. Pet care and pet ownership encouraged positive development of independence and self-reliance.
Children with anxiety or insecurity benefit from friendly pet interactions, lowering the level of cortisol and raising the levels of oxytocin. Having a pet decreases the likelihood of general anxiety as well. Petting a dog physically makes the child feel better.
It is an important study, because there are so few of its kind. The results are not surprising and supports the pet development we are witnessing; Service and therapy animal have become more recognized as a tool for children with mental challenges and disabilities, and there is an increasing interest in having a pet. People who have pets often have children as well.
The children are the new generation of pet owners. Not just for leisure but as an adopted and wanted member of the family.