As if we needed any more reason to value the companionship of dogs, it turns out that kids benefit from having a dog around in more ways than previously thought. Popular culture is filled with examples of dogs protecting children and rescuing them from danger. Now research shows that Lassie may not have just rescued Timmy from the well physically, but also metaphorically. Find out more about the benefits of a healthy relationship between kids and dogs.
Kids and dogs: fast friends
Studies have already revealed the positive effects that interactions with dogs have on adults. Playing with dogs increases serotonin and dopamine levels. This helps to stave off depression. We also get a boost of oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and promotes social bonding. It’s clear that biological mechanisms have developed over time which reinforces the connection between people and dogs.
But what do those biological mechanisms mean for kids? Kids and dogs appear to get along very well. This is backed up by the changes that occur at a chemical level when the two spend time together.
A study conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) observed 643 children aged between 4 and 10 years old over the course of 18 months. Researchers used a standardized screening test referred to as the Screen for Child Anxiety and Related Disorders (SCARED). They found a noticeable difference in anxiety levels between the children who had dogs and those who did not. While only 12% of children who had dogs at home tested positive for stress and anxiety, 21% of children without dogs tested positive for stress and anxiety.
How do dogs reduce anxiety in kids?
What is it about dogs that make them so effective at reducing anxiety in children? Researchers have a few theories. Let’s take a look at factors that might play a role:
- Social bonding. Kids who have dogs have something to talk about at school. Much like two dog lovers who encounter each other while walking their pets immediately recognize something they have in common. It promotes social interaction for children and reduces feelings of isolation.
- Dogs, of course, provide companionship. Children aged 7-8 years old ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem, and even as confidantes.
- Dogs have even been used in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) to alleviate separation anxiety in children and promote emotional attachment. It’s been shown that children with autism or other learning difficulties may find it easier to interact with dogs than with people, as they both rely on nonverbal cues to communicate. This in turn can help give the child the self-confidence to develop relationships later in life.
- Dogs encourage kids to be more active, both physically and mentally, which in turn helps reduce any feelings of anxiety.
- Children who grow up with pets have lower risk of developing allergies or asthma, as exposure to the allergens carried by dogs helps them to develop immunity.
- Dogs provide kids with the experience of unconditional love. They don’t express criticism or judgement, and will show affection and empathy without appearing to demand anything in return. This can be invaluable to children, providing them with a sense of security and self-worth.
Dogs – An essential part of growing up?
If children are presented with healthy methods of coping with stress, it can prevent childhood anxiety from causing further issues down the line. It goes without saying that providing children with multiple sources of warmth and companionship at home will be conducive to their mental health.
Considering the results of the research, introducing a dog into the home is an effective way to achieve that. Promoting positive relations between kids and dogs could prevent anxieties from developing into disorders later on in life. Children learn responsibility and commitment when they have a pet to care for, feed and take for walks.
However, it is very important to note that dogs are not therapy tools. They are sentient beings who deserve as much love as they give. So, you should only bring a dog home if you are prepared to welcome them as full-fledged family members, which includes dedication to socialization, daily exercise, training and teaching your children how to treat dogs with respect.
If you have considered everything that having a dog entails and you want more than ever to bring a pooch home, then dogs’ ability to ease anxiety in kids may be the final endorsement that you need.