For a kid, there can be a big difference between coming home to an empty house after school and coming home to a four-legged friend every day.
While the role of pets in the home has not always drawn support from doctors and clinicians, studies in recent decades have done much to support the positive aspects of having pets in the home. There are a variety of benefits to owning pets with children in the family, from social development to better physical fitness.
You’ve got a Friend in Me
There’s a reason dogs are called “man’s best friend:” they love unconditionally and are naturally great listeners. These qualities lead to perhaps the most important benefits pets can have in the home, which are lessons in social development and interaction.
For quiet or shy children, these characteristics in pets (even animals other than dogs) can help bring out feelings or thoughts that the kids may not have communicated to adults.
Animals can be easier for children to establish relationships with than other people because of their calming influence and the lack of pressure in communicating with pets.
Basic communication—both verbal and nonverbal—has been shown to improve with pets present, as has empathy.
The general theory is that pets give children an easy-going friend that will always be dependable for an open ear. Young children who have not had much contact with people outside of the family, which may only be parents and a few other relatives, can improve their social skills by spending time with another living thing that they care about.
For autistic children or children in particularly difficult situations—such as coping with divorcing parents or a medical condition—pets can be especially helpful. Hospitals, courtrooms, and specialty clinics have begun to use pets to help children feel more comfortable and communicate better. Of course, these benefits are not limited to the hospital ward: Families can help children deal with difficult times by bringing a pet into the home and giving the child a constant friend.
In the past, pets were viewed as detrimental to young children’s health. Some doctors asserted than having pets around young children led to a higher likelihood of infection or future health problems.
On the contrary, recent studies have shown that having pets around newborn babies and toddlers can help increase the children’s resistance to allergies later in life.
Owning dogs can also help encourage children to do more physical activity. Instead of viewing it as a responsibility, many children see walking their dog as a chance to have fun and explore with their pet.
Dog ownership has been shown to decrease rates of obesity in adults, and it can also help children who may not be getting enough exercise otherwise.
Pets can be especially fun and beneficial for kids, but studies have shown that those benefits can spread to the whole family. Because pets are typically such calm, stress-free members of the family, they can improve family dynamics and make families feel closer and more relaxed with each other.
Despite the high rate of dogs reportedly eating homework, pets have actually been shown to improve children’s performance in class. Children coming from households with pets tend to miss fewer days of school, and they generally feel more confident about their schoolwork. Studies on the numerical improvement of students’ work due to pet ownership have are forthcoming, but the benefits that pet-owning children feel may be due to the effect pets have on the development of social behavior.
While dogs are the most popular pets in the US, a variety of animals can be helpful at home.
Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon, writing for Healthline.com ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.