Can Getting a Pet Improve Your Child's Behaviour?
Many parents I have spoken to over the last year and a half have struggled with their children's behaviour during multiple lockdowns, especially while attempting home-schooling, and many found things difficult while managing the transition back to school. One question I often ask, especially to parents of primary school aged children who are struggling with very challenging behaviour is "Do you have any pets?". Often the answer is "No", and while getting a pet (however small!) may not be possible for everybody, it is fascinating how much pets and animals can influence behaviour. Heard about therapy dogs, or equine therapy? (Strength and Learning Through Horses is one of my favourite local charitable organisations!).
Did you know that pets and animals in general are thought have a positive effect on children's behaviour and mental health, and are believed to help children to regulate their emotions? Pets can help teach empathy, compassion, attachment, social skills, and improve your child's self-esteem, among other things! If it is not possible for your family to get a pet just now, consider taking your child to places like petting zoos, pony riding classes, and even just your local pet shop (yes, this is an actual activity, and yes, I did do it many times during my years as a nanny!).
In a North London terraced home, my own first pet was a very unfriendly and uncuddly white rabbit called Snowy (deceptively cute name!), who focused all of his efforts on trying to escape from our back garden, and was extremely hard to love, but my second pet was a little fluffy grey kitten, one of the litter from our family cat (who I was allowed to keep after Snowy encountered a fox during one of his escape attempts!), and who became my one true friend during my turbulent teenage years. Via an uncle in Lancashire, I also befriended a labrador, two donkeys, ducks, chickens, and if you read my Easter newsletter you will know that I had a Clarice-style encounter with some lambs in a barn on a very dark night! I still adore animals of all kinds, and my recent house guests have included two gerbils and a hamster (while their owners have been on holiday!). Whether or not you grew up with a pet of your own, here are a few things to know about the benefits of adding a pet to your family:
Pets can have a positive impact on children's health, starting with the basic fact that they tend to lighten our mood and bring us comfort just by being present! Simply stroking a pet can lower stress levels because the very act itself causes our body to release endorphins, a natural reaction which has a therapeutic impact. The release of endorphins in the brain makes us feel happy, naturally lowering stress and anxiety. And to add to that wonderful fact, children who have pets tend to:
Experience better general health
Be more physically active
Have stronger immune systems
Have less allergies
Have a reduced risk of developing asthma
In terms of mental health, kids with pets tend to also be:
• Less defiant
• Experience less moodiness
• Have fewer behavioural issues
• Encounter fewer learning problems
Studies show that during a child’s early years having a pet (most significantly a cat or a dog) can have a powerful effect on their development. Having a pet (particularly a dog) has been shown to have a positive impact on:
• Cognitive development
• Social skills (particularly those who struggle making friends)
• Better behaviour in the classroom
• Better attitude towards school
Children with Disabilities
For children with disabilities or other disorders such as Autism, studies have revealed that pets can help children to improve their:
Be more receptive to towards their peers
Ability to cope with unfamiliar or stressful situations
Of course, there is more to getting a pet than this, and I would urge you to think carefully about budget, space, responsibility, welfare, and lifestyle before committing to a pet, and if you have never had a pet yourself, perhaps start small! Many children start off with small pets like gerbils, or a few fish in a tank, before moving on to something more exciting like a family cat or dog! I would always urge you to consider adopting a pet from a rescue shelter rather than buying a pet from an expensive breeder, and do your research if somebody in your home is an allergy-sufferer - there are plenty of options out there!
If this is a topic that is on your mind, why not take a look at some of these useful resources:
Apartment Therapy for advice on how to introduce a pet into your home.
The Autism Awareness Centre on how pets can benefit those with autism.
PFMA for the latest data on pets in UK households!
My upcoming blog posts will be featuring pelvic-floor exercises, play, and Dads! Sign up to my mailing list to get the latest! Don't forget to read my recent posts with Emma West about cows milk protein allergies in babies, weaning, pre- and post-natal exercise, and pre- and post-natal nutrition right here on my blog! And while you are here why not read some more great tips from some of my other favourite specialists: Midwife and Lactation Consultant Shelley Wilson, Sleep Consultant Alexandra Collingbourne, and Declutterer and Organiser Joanne Forde.
Get in touch for more information on any of the topics mentioned here or elsewhere on my site, I would love to hear from you!