One of the biggest reasons parents opt to get a pet for their child is to teach youngsters important lessons about responsibility and this also include them in the circle of life. But there’s many other ways that animals can impact kids both psychologically and emotionally. From larger labradors to tiny terriers, fluffy felines and cuddly kittens, this important bond does more than help kids understand caring for another living creature and dealing with the concept of life and death.
For a prime example, in an earlier post we discussed many relevant questions parents should be asking their healthcare provider about an ADHD diagnosis for their child. But did you know that interactions with animals can also have an important impact on kids with mental and emotional disorders like ADHD?
According to results of a study published by our neighbors to the south, The Orange County Register, they reported using positive reinforcement with kids similar to training techniques used with animals that provide positive and unique results that are important to their development.
One of the leading educational psychologists participating in this study, Dr. Sabrina Schuck of the UC Irvine Child Development Center, viewed the struggles of children who are often given authoritative messages from home and school. They may be subject to aggressive statements like, “sit-up straight, pay attention, stop talking,” and other advice from educators, care providers or parents who become inadvertently impatient from some of these symptomatic behaviors. Even children without mental health or educational difficulties can suffer from the deliverance of these statements.
During their research, these professionals shied away from delivering these types of commands to children. Instead, they offered alternatives to thwarting these types of destructive or antisocial behavior that kids can often exhibit. As a part of their experiment, they used time with animals as a reward. Similar to positive training techniques used with pets, they delivered the same methodology with kids with similar results.
Results and Rewards
"For kids with ADHD and kids in general it's hard keep them motivated," offers Dr. Schuck. "The theory is, if kids are reading to the dog (for example) it makes it a little more engaging than if just had to read in front of their peers." So it only stands to reason that interacting with animals offers benefits for children regardless of their mental or emotional state of mind.
Even without a diagnosis of a learning disability or a debilitating mental condition, having a pet at home can help provide children a way to navigate a myriad of different difficulties into a more relaxed and controlled environment. Think of it this way, if you’re attempting to discipline a child, all they usually see is a command with no sense of reward or achievement, especially for a toddler who doesn’t understand language skills as of yet.
Instruction and Interaction
When a pet is included in a family environment, children will see that bad behaviors result in negative consequences, but not without using positive reinforcement techniques. Children learn from what they see and grow from these experiences. As parents and pet owners, we’ve stopped swatting dogs on their noses with a rolled-up newspaper and have refrained from spanking our kids. We’ve replaced these tactics with better forms of discipline that don’t include violence.
From toddlers to teens, the younger we start introducing our kids to interaction with animals, the better off we’ll all be in the long run. Giving kids a relationship with a pet provides them with a form of interaction that comes without judgement, devoid of sarcasm, a lack of bullying and other situations we can’t control when they’re away from our supervision. This will help to build their self esteem and feed their soul with unconditional love which gives them a place where they understand relationships from a simpler standpoint.
Hilary Smith is a freelance journalist based out of Chicago. Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary attended St. Stephen's Episcopal School and Northwestern University's school of journalism. Upon graduation, she turned her love of technology into a freelance writing career. After becoming a mother, she began focusing on writing about family and parenting in the digital age.