Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.
Our youngest son, Sean, has always been a bit of an introvert. He has a few friends at school but doesn’t really socialize anywhere else. My husband and I read online about how pets can help people come out of their shells and be more expressive. We took a chance and got Sean a dachshund for his ninth birthday. He instantly fell in love and now walks Hot Dog (his name choice, of course) almost every day. They both get so much attention at the dog park, and Sean loves to talk about Hot Dog whenever he can. He’s even made a few friends with some other kids!
When you were a child, did you have a pet? If so, was your relationship filled with endless hours of cuddling, playing ball, going on long walks, swimming, or even playing dress up together? Or perhaps your pet offered comfort and a nonjudgmental ear when you were feeling down.
We know that some children have pets but don’t interact with them much or have much of an attachment relationship. What was your relationship like with your pet? The companionship that pets provide is one of the most amazing experiences around. Did you also know that pets can help your mental and physical health?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet ownership can help with:
- Lowering cholesterol
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing feelings of loneliness
Pets can also encourage you to get out for exercise or socialization. If you have a child, then a pet can be an opportunity for making friends and not being cooped in the house all the time. We know that caring for a pet is also a great way to teach empathy, responsibility, and gives kids a sense of “I can do it.”
In fact, here at Rice Psychology Group, we’re avid animal lovers and often have our own pets in the office for patients to interact with. It creates a somewhat less formal office experience that puts many kids and adults at ease. We have many families who count on seeing our dogs when they come to the office, partly because they make talking about harder topics a bit easier just with their presence.
In this piece, we’d like to go over the benefits of pet ownership, especially for children!
Growing Up with Four-Legged Friends
22 studies that looked into the relationship between pets and children found “a wide range of emotional health benefits from childhood pet ownership, particularly for self-esteem and loneliness.” This is incredible news for parents wanting to find a fun, innovative, and affection-centric way to help their children grow into productive and well-responding adults.
When it comes to social anxiety, pet ownership can be a great way to help children be comfortable in social settings. Like we mentioned in our vignette above, pets open many avenues for social interactions and forming friendships. This can include visiting:
- Dog parks
- Classroom show-and-tell sessions
- Agility and obedience classes
- Retirement homes, nurseries, and hospitals
- Dog walks and festivals
A Boost of Confidence
Along with opening new doors to making friends and forming new bonds with others, owning a pet can also be a significant confidence booster. By having a dog, cat, hamster, gerbil, or other pet, your child will now have something special with a personality all its own to share and speak about.
According to Allen R. McConnell, Ph.D., who led a study at the University of Miami on this topic, people that have close bonds with their pets tend to be closer to their friends and relatives as well. Your child can have the same benefits.
On top of that, if your child finds that the bonding experience with their pet is best when they’re out and about with them on walks or hikes, then this can lead to a healthier way of living. And healthier living almost always leads to being in better physical shape, giving an extra boost of self-confidence.
Our Pets at Rice Psychology Group
Like I mentioned earlier, at Rice Psychology Group, we adore animals. We’re pet owners just like many of you out there and oftentimes bring our four-legged best friends to the office with us. It adds to the down-to-Earth, peaceful, and loving environment that we feel helps our patients of all ages open up to us.
Milo is my best friend and is very popular with my patients. He’s both loving and friendly, two things that some of us sometimes need when we’re going through a rough patch in life. With Milo and the pets of a few of my fellow team members to help us, we’re sure that you and/or your child will feel welcomed. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our licensed psychologists and mental health counselors in Tampa