It’s been a colossal three years for most all over the globe, and it’s affected everyone differently. UNICEF figures show children are heavily impacted, suggesting they could feel the negative effect of the pandemic on their mental health and wellbeing for years to come.
Who are they turning to for comfort? Fido and Mittens might be high on their list.
We’re in partnership with leading organizations supporting high quality research to better understand how the human-animal bond may help support our physical and mental wellbeing, including the health and development of the youngest among us.
There's growing scientific evidence that interacting with pets can benefit children, which may help tackle some of the effects of social isolation and loneliness caused by the ongoing pandemic.
Here are three science-backed ways animals can benefit children’s emotional development:
Growing up with a pet can help boost kids’ development
Research suggests family pets can promote kids’ social skills and self-esteem and that owning a dog is linked with a lower risk of childhood anxiety. Some studies have also found pet dogs may help pre-teens cope better with stress , be more self-confident and understand responsibility.
Dogs in schools can help relieve kids’ stress – with long-term effects
A study funded in part by the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, and recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show that dog-assisted interventions can reduce school children’s stress, with effects lasting through the school term. Researchers found that school children who interacted with dogs individually or as part of a group (in both mainstream and special education programs) had significantly lower stress levels during the six-week school term .
“Studies had already suggested pet dog interactions could lower children’s stress levels, but this is the first time we are seeing long-term effects for children enrolled in both mainstream and special educational needs schools”, says Dr. Carla Eatherington, human-animal interaction expert at Waltham Petcare Science Institute.
Therapeutic horseback riding can have long-lasting benefits for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)
In the first-of-its-kind study, researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found that kids participating in a therapeutic horseback riding program had considerably better social skills, were more verbal, less irritable and less hyperactive than kids who visited the center to learn about animals but didn’t interact with them. Most importantly, almost half (44 percent) of the children enrolled in the program were still seeing the same benefits, six months later. They were just as fluent and communicative as they were right after the original horseback riding program. They even maintained their lower level of irritability when compared to other children at the center.
“There's growing evidence suggesting pets can provide children with emotional support, but we need to better understand how this bond benefits children. Future research needs to investigate the relationship kids develop with their pets. That way, we can tailor specific animal-assisted interventions to children’s needs,” Dr. Eatherington added.
Liked these stories? Find out more about the science behind the human-animal bond from our colleagues at the Waltham Petcare Science Institute.