The power of pets

Is your child begging for a pet? Here are five ways that a furry friend can help your child’s mental health.

With the world in turmoil, your child might be feeling upset, worried, confused, or concerned about the future. It’s natural that they might have developed some feelings of loneliness over the last couple of years.

Having a pet is a big responsibility, but a furry friend can provide benefits beyond someone to warm your child’s feet in bed at night. They can give children a real mental and emotional boost, too.

1. Social connection

Dogs need walking, brushing, feeding, and playing with. Cats do, too (well, maybe not walking, but you can get cat leashes and give
it a try!). Children who are feeling isolated from friends will benefit from having a pet they can talk to, share secrets with, cuddle, take care of, and bond with. They give your child company and connection to another living being.

2. Depression and anxiety

Caring for a pet helps children to relax and quiet their mind – particularly the act of sitting and stroking a pet is very calming. Dogs especially are great for encouraging children to exercise, which helps with depression. And caring for a pet can help give children a feeling of achievement, and may help them to recognise that they need to look after themselves, too.

3. Planning and responsibility

Pets help children to develop a routine and schedule, which is particularly helpful for learning to plan and manage their time. Learning about pet care – feeding, walking, bathing, cleaning out a cage, litter tray, or fishbowl, brushing, grooming, giving medication – are all valuable life skills that help your child to learn responsibility.

4. Someone to talk to

Pets are great listeners, and offer unconditional love to their owners. Having a pet to talk to and spend time with, particularly when upset or having a hard time with things, is really helpful for children. There are things kids feel more comfortable confiding in their pet – like when they’re having friend trouble, or a hard time at school – and a furry friend will listen without judging or criticising.

5. Sensory issues

Pets can be helpful for children who have sensory issues, autism, ADHD, and other conditions. Research is still looking into this, but early findings are promising. In addition, interacting with pets has been shown to decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol, and help children to feel comforted and calmer.

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