Pets have been shown to promote health benefits in humans. They can increase self-esteem, increase trust and confidence as well as increase endorphin production. In many instances, therapy dogs have specifically been used to help kids.
Therapy pets and their handlers are common in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals, but did you know that they can also be found in schools? Those who are sick or elderly are not the only ones who benefit from therapy with animals. Schools are using them to improve the lives of children in a number of ways. Here are six ways that these helpful pets can make life better for children.
Six Ways to Help a Child
Pets are fun to have around even when they are supposed to be doing something serious like therapy. Here are ways that kids encounter therapy pets.
1. Literacy – Did you know that therapy dogs can help children to read? Those who have trouble with their reading are often afraid to read aloud in front of other classmates. But, they are more than willing to read in front of a four-legged friend. They are part of reading programs that bring dogs in to increase literacy by helping kids to work on their reading skills. Animals are attentive and patient as kids read, and the children learn how to interact with animals at the same time.
2. Bullying – Some therapy dogs are used in schools as a part of a campaign to stop bullying. The dogs are used to teach character traits like compassion and fairness to kids in an effort to decrease incidents of bullying. Kids who had animals in the classroom were less likely to be part of disruptive behavior than those without one.
3. Calm fears – Children who had a visit from a dog or other therapy pet before a dental procedure were calmer. Pets are soothing. For kids who have pets at home, the sight of one in their hospital room or a doctor’s office, provides a sense of normalcy and instills trust.
4. Acceptance – When kids find it hard to talk to adults about issues, they can talk to animals. Because the animal doesn’t recoil or run from them, they develop a trusting bond that leads to them opening up about issues in therapy. Animals want to please people so they are devoted and focused on whomever they are with.
5. Social interaction – Therapy animals can foster the learning of social skills in kids. Because animals are patient, they can be used to reinforce positive social skills like teamwork, empathy and responsibility.
6. Exercise – Kids can get a bit of fresh air and have some fun at the same time. Running around playing with a therapy dog is exercise although it won’t seem like it.
Kids and pets are both precious. Bringing them together in therapy can have fantastic results.
Social Benefits of Children Owning Pets
Pets are a great addition to your home. They offer many social benefits to kids. Whether you have one child or more than one, a pet can increase your quality of life.
What is it about pets that make them so valuable? You see them in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. People seem to improve in health when pets are around.
Children can also profit from living with a pet. Physically, they can improve their health by walking their dog and spending time playing outside. There are also socialization skills that can be learned from exposure to a pet.
So, what are the benefits to children? Here are a few reasons to own a pet.
- Conversation starter – It can be awkward making new friends. With a pet, there is something with which to ease into a conversation. Kids can break the ice by talking about your child’s new pet.
- A way to meet new people – People with pets are more likely to talk to each other. If you pass with a dog in the park, you will say hello and might even stop for a few words about your animals as they sniff each other out. This is a good social experience for kids of all ages.
- Offer companionship – For families with one child, having no siblings can hinder some social interaction. Having a pet offers companionship to your child. They have someone to confide in and talk to. Pets are quite sensitive to the attitudes and needs of their owners.
- Understand various forms of communication – Since animals can’t talk, it is up to the owners to learn to communicate with them. This can increase their understanding of non-verbal communication between people which can help them in all types of social situations.
- Gain self-confidence – Caring for something other than themselves can increase their belief in their own abilities. Self-confident kids are more productive in school and in social situations. Pets give unconditional love which bolsters a kid’s esteem.
- Reduce stress – Stress is not just an adult condition. Children experience stress as well. Owning a pet can lower blood pressure and cholesterol. During test-taking time or social problems, a pet can ease any discomfort.
- Sounding board – When you need to talk, your pet will be right there. They exhibit unconditional love to their owners, reinforcing that they care. And, pets don’t talk so they won’t reveal any secrets.
- Learning to play – Pets, especially dogs, have a real need for exercise. Kids can run, laugh, tumble and cuddle with their pet. Even if they are an only child, they can learn how to share and take turns by spending time with their pet.
Pets can help your child to socialize better from an earlier age.
Explaining Pet Loss to Children
Pets have a different life expectancy than humans. Depending on the pet you choose, it may outlive your children. Learn how to go about explaining the loss of a pet to your kids.
Death is a hard issue to deal with and explain, especially to kids. But, their first experience with death often begins with their pets. Even though your pet is okay now, learning how to deal with death is not a bad idea.
Kids mature at different ages. They may not always understand the concept of death. Here are a few tips to help you prepare what to say to them.
- Be honest – Kids can see through a lie. Worse, lying can cause them to misunderstand the concept of death. This will create a bigger problem later. Use terms that they can understand but tell the truth.
- Explain what happened – Younger kids might be satisfied with the answer that kitty was sick and is no longer with us. Older kids might need a bit more of the story. Tell them that animals have a different life cycle and die from certain illnesses or accidents. This type of explanation prevents kids from transferring what happened to their pet into a scenario involving their parents or siblings.
- Visit the vet – Being a professional, they may be able to help you and your child with the explanation of your pet’s death. If the pet was put to sleep at the vet, allowing them to see the pet one last time could also help them understand what has happened.
- Hold a burial service – A burial helps to put closure on the subject. Children may even want to help place the pet in a small wooden box or sheet and dig the hole. Let them say words concerning what they loved about their pet. Join in as well to make the service complete.
- Discuss the events – Some kids will be sad afterwards. When they want to talk, be ready to listen. It could help your child to cope and recover from the trauma of losing their favorite friend.
- Put on your game face – Many younger kids enjoy time with their pets but have not learned to be attached through love. They might pick up that something is seriously wrong from the way that you are handling the loss. Keep your spirits high so they will not be saddened.
- Prepare for some repercussions – Depending on how long you have had the pet, kids can suffer grief. This can manifest as poor grades in school, acting out at home and crying. Encourage them to vent their feelings.
Losing a pet can be devastating for everyone in the family. The first experience of loss for kids is often through the loss of a pet. Learn how to explain what has happened in a positive way.