Most children are keenly interested in animals. For pets, that feeling is often mutual. After all: kids often come with snacks! Both kids and pets have a lot of love to give, so it’s no surprise to find a deep bond developing between these family members. This month, we explore the ways that kids and animals can learn and grow together.
Do you have a timid pet? Do you have a child who is learning to read? Perhaps your local animal shelter has a storytime program? Listening to the sound of a child’s voice is a great way for shy or stressed animals to get used to people, especially children. While the animal rests in a safe space, a child can read them their favorite stories. This low-stress interaction helps children improve their reading skills and animals build their trust and confidence. Visiting the shelter might also ignite a child’s passion for animal welfare.
There’s nothing more heart-warming than reading stories of children whose confidence, sense of responsibility and social skills blossomed with the help of an animal companion. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) uses the bond between children and animals to help kids navigate difficult medical, developmental, or psychological situations. Children can be matched with animals that best suit their personality and the type of support they need.
Researchers have found that therapy animals have a positive effect on child development including increased “physical, social, emotional and cognitive development skills.” As a result, these children can take their newfound skills and participate confidently at school as well as in social situations.
Teaching and Learning
At home and in therapy settings, children can benefit from teaching an animal new commands and tricks. When the child sees their pet or therapy animal master the new skill, their own sense of competence and self-worth improves. The child can take pride in both the animal’s accomplishments and their own!
The benefits children experience from being around their animals go beyond the home or hospital setting. Kids can take the empathy, trust, and other skills that they learn from animals and apply them to all areas of their life. Through confiding in a pet who gives them unconditional love, a shy child can learn how to open up to others. By keeping up with an energetic dog, children are encouraged to lead a more active life.
Pets can have a calming, therapeutic effect on their human family members. Medical appointments can be a stressful situation for a child. For children with special needs, that stress can escalate to extreme anxiety. That’s why some medical offices use therapy animals to comfort children during consultations and procedures. This creates a more relaxed environment that benefits the child, their parents, and the medical professionals performing the check-ups.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital offers this type of companionship. The Paws at Play Hospital Dog Program supports children receiving treatment. These types of innovative programs are revolutionizing the ways medical professionals provide care for young patients.
The connection between animals and children is a beautiful thing. Learning and growing together is a bond to be cherished.