If you don't already have a dog, chances are, your child will probably ask to adopt one at some point.
But many parents wonder, is it a good idea to have a dog and a small child in the family at the same time?
Well, dog ownership is a big responsibility, of course, but families with a canine member also enjoy many benefits.
In particular, growing up with a dog can be greatly beneficial for a child's development and overall mental health. But how exactly do dogs help develop children's minds?
Until recently, we could only guess, but today we also have studies that confirm it (although not nearly enough as we would like to). These are 3 ways dogs can help children become better people:
1. Dogs Are A Source Of Comfort And Companionship
If you ever had a dog in your household, you must know this: there is nothing quite as comforting as a dog's love.
Dogs are faithful, trustworthy companions and they do not let us down. Whatever happens, they wait for us with a loving gaze.
This creates a feeling of safety and makes us more confident, and that's true both for adults and children. Especially during transitional periods such as adolescence, you might not always know what is going on in your child's mind.
Well, having a canine companion can make your child feel understood and supported even when they don't want to share their troubles with anyone.
It is a proven fact that depression and reported feelings of loneliness are much less common among dog owners than among people without pets - and who wouldn't want that for their child?
For example, a study published in the Pediatric Research journal shows that children who grow up with dogs tend to be generally better off and more stable emotionally.
2. Growing Up With Dogs Develops Social And Emotional Intelligence
"Dogs and humans have been companions for thousands of years, meaning it shouldn't surprise anyone that children are naturally drawn to dogs. However, dogs are not just fun to play with, they actually help kids develop better relationships with humans too."
- Sharon Elber, Professional Trainer at Gentle Dog Trainers.
Children who grow up with dogs tend to be more sociable, have greater confidence in social interactions, and better social skills overall. A recent study published in the Pediatric Research journal examined how dog ownership influenced social and emotional development in preschool children. The results are quite promising: they show that children from families with a canine member have fewer problems with behaviour and tend to deal better with social situations.
This is an aspect that can be especially important for children with ADD or ADHD.
"Children with ADHD may have difficulties with social interaction. When your child plays outside with a pet, other kids will automatically want to join in. When you invite a child to your home for a playdate, the pet is a great icebreaker", says Jeff Hamilton in an article for Psychology Today.
Emotional intelligence is an aspect of a child's development that is often underestimated, but, in fact, it's the base that allows us to deal with all the challenges of life.
Having a dog as a friend gives a child unconditional support, and this, in turn, makes developing meaningful relationships with peers much easier.
3. Taking Care Of A Dog Teaches Responsibility
Finally, teaching your child how to take care of a pet is a great way to teach responsibility.
Playing with the dog and going for walks from time to time is one thing, but children can be taught an important lesson by letting them participate in taking care of the dog. Feeding, grooming, ensuring the dog gets enough exercise - these are all activities even a young child can take part in. And by doing so, they learn what it means to have another living being affected by their actions.
Having a dog has many benefits for everyone in the family. Taking care of and playing with the dog is a great way for the whole family to get together. Moreover, dog owners tend to be more active and therefore healthier overall. Walks and play-time with the dog is an incentive for children to get more exercise too, and we all know there can be no harm in that!
But, today we tried to focus on cognitive development and mental health specifically, and we think it's safe to say dogs are of great help there too. Growing up with dogs teaches children important life skills and makes them more sociable, less lonely, and more responsible.
Vedrana is a professional writer and anthropologist specialising in the communication between animals and humans. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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