How Pets Help Children Navigate Anxiety
If you’d like to help your child feel a little less anxious, getting a furry friend might just do the trick. According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), which studies the interaction between humans and animals, animals do more for us than provide companionship. Research funded or conducted through HABRI found that animals can help reduce anxiety and provide comfort in stressful situations.
The Pet Effect
HABRI calls the benefits of having a pet the “Pet Effect.” Stress is caused by the "fight or flight" response deep in our brains, which raises blood pressure and heart rate. Pets slow down the stress response, quickly returning the body to its normal state. Being around pets can also boost positive emotions, decrease loneliness, and create a sense of well being. Especially for children, the Pet Effect can have lifelong benefits.
The Pet Effect and Children
Because children are still learning how to manage the world around them, their positive coping skills aren’t as established as adults are. Minor stressors can loom large in their heads and easily overwhelm them. Having a pet allows children to feel less anxiety by serving as an emotional buffer and offering companionship. Studies show that children who have a pet in their home are less likely to show symptoms of stress than those who did not. Perhaps this is because children ages 7-8 are more likely to see the family pet as providers of comfort and social confidence.
Although the family dog might feel like a big, furry ball of upkeep to the adults in the adults in the household, to children they offer a whole different world. Children, especially those at a younger age, see the family pet as their peer. The relationship they develop with their pet contains different boundaries, making them more likely to turn to pets in times of stress. A snuggle or cuddle with the family dog also promotes oxytocin in the body, which causes feelings of bonding and a sense of well-being. For children experience stress from loss or change, having a pet in the home can serve as an emotional anchor. Pets can offer children stability in the face of adversity.
For a child, the family dog or cat helps them experience the world in new ways. They engage with and watch the family pet, learning things about their environment along the way. The family pet encourages children to explore and problem solve, which gives them the confidence to adapt to new situations. Pets also promote engagement with others, teaching children how to navigate social situations and reduce their fear of novel experiences.
Emotional Support Animals
For children who suffer from severe anxiety, the family pet can also serve as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). If a healthcare professional finds an animal to be a vital part of a child’s treatment for anxiety, and they recommend the animal as part of a child’s treatment plan, then an animal may become an ESA. A licensed healthcare professional must write a letter stating the animal is a necessary part of the child’s treatment plan, allowing the ESA to travel and live with the child in areas where pets aren’t typically allowed.
In addition to the family pet, CalmiGo can also assist your child in managing feelings of stress and anxiety. A multi-sensory, medication-free way to alleviate stress, CalmiGo can travel anywhere with you and your child.