Just like for adults, the COVID19 pandemic has left many children feeling socially isolated and lonely. But a new survey of 2000 parents across the US and UK shows pets’ unconditional love has brought children social, physical and emotional benefits, helping them cope with the stress and loneliness that lockdown restrictions and online schooling have caused. Worldwide, at least 1 in 7 children and young people have lived under stay-at-home policies for most of 2020, and early indicators show the pandemic has affected children’s social skills, productivity and well-being, according to a recent Save the Children report.
For many families, however, pets have been great study buddies by offering children much needed emotional support. More than 83% of parents interviewed found that their family pet helped their child feel less lonely during lockdown, with over 3 in 4 parents feeling that day-to-day interactions with their cat or dog reduced their child’s stress and anxiety.
Pets also helped improve their child’s academic performance, according to more than half of parents interviewed, and 72% said their child was more motivated with a pet around. 90% found pet interaction helped boost children’s energy and concentration.
“The pandemic was an abrupt change for my students and for education in general, and all educators were challenged to find new and creative ways to engage our classes,” said Chris Koenig, Health and Physical Education Teacher in Oregon’s Gresham-Barlow School District. “Adding Bella to my lesson plans for Pet Fridays has gone a long way in giving my students – and our dog – something positive to look forward to.”
“We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed with the response from teachers, parents and students to our teams’ virtual therapy animal visits during the pandemic. There is now an important role for animals in helping children adjust as they return to school,” said Mary Margaret Callahan, Chief Mission Officer of the leading therapy animal organization Pet Partners.
In addition to these benefits, the survey also found:
- 75% parents believed pets helped children bond with other school mates
- 81% believed pets encouraged more exercise and activity
- 80% of parents believed pet interaction should be used in schools, with 3 in 4 saying there should be more investment supporting pets in the classroom programs
The extra time spent together also benefited pets, as most parents believed their pet is also calmer now that they spend more time with their children.
Research shows pets may have a positive impact on children’s learning, by improving their motivation, engagement and social interactions in the classroom. Other studies have shown pets can provide emotional support for children, help them deal with stress, be more self-confident, and understand responsibility. Having a dog at home has also been associated with a lower risk of childhood anxiety.
“Exploring the important role human-animal interaction can play in a range of settings – from the classroom and office to the hospital or simply at home – is something we, at Mars Petcare, have been committed to for many years,” said Kay O’Donnell, Vice President, Waltham Petcare Science Institute, the fundamental science centre for Mars Petcare. “
At Mars Petcare, and in collaboration with organizations like The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, we are supporting researchers worldwide in their efforts to drive high-quality human-animal interaction studies and better understand when and how pets in the physical classroom can help children’s learning in the classroom.
Join in the conversation about the research behind the benefits of pets and hear from parents and teachers’ experiences of having pets in the home classroom by using #PetsMakeItBetter and following us on Instagram.