Want a smarter, more empathetic, possibly healthier child? It may come as no surprise that having a family dog can benefit your child’s emotional intelligence.
A collection of scientific studies outlined by Nienke Endenburg and Ben Baarda in their paper The Role of Pets in Enhancing Human Well-being: Effects on Child Development, along with other research, shows that pets can have a positive effect on your child’s health, too.
Here are seven ways kids who have a pet in the home have a leg up on those who don’t:
1. They have higher self-esteem
When given tasks to complete, such as helping with the care of a pet, kids show an improvement in self-esteem. The tasks should be age-appropriate, though, the authors say, such as allowing a 3-year-old who is too young to walk a dog put the water bowl down instead.
2. They’re more compassionate
Multiple studies showed that children who owned pets were more empathetic towards others. “If there are pets in the house, parents and children frequently share in taking care of the pet, which suggests that youngsters learn at an early age how to care for and nurture a dependent animal,” Endenburg and Baarda write.
3. They feel supported
Several researchers found that children often name their pet when asked who they would go to with a problem. “Pets can make people feel unconditionally accepted, whereas fellow humans will judge and may criticize,” the report continues.
4. They have better cognitive skills
Some research has suggested that kids who talk to pets, whether by giving praise and commands or just babbling, show improved cognitive development. Some schools and animal rescues even have programs where children practice reading to animals. The benefits apply to both the kids and the dogs!
5. They have less stress
Petting a dog has been proven to lower cortisol levels in both the person and the pet. Also, research has found that children’s stress levels decrease when reading aloud to a dog.
6. They’re happier
Playing with a pet raises levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm the mind and increase the mood.
7. They’re healthier
Besides the obvious benefits of being more active and getting outside more often when playing with a dog, several studies have suggested that children who have dogs have a decreased chance of developing allergies.
8, They’re more responsible
Having a dog is a huge responsibility, and getting your child involved in your pet’s care will prepare them for responsibilities later in life. For example, you and your child will need to take your puppy out for a potty break about every two hours for the first few weeks. Mealtime is also a great way to involve kids in caring for their pet. Have your child help prepare your dog’s meal twice a day.
Kids can also save some of their allowance money toward paying for dog food or other necessities. Find a fun family training class near you and make sure your kid is involved in learning all of the cues.
When selecting a dog for your child, make sure to research the breeds and speak to the breeder about your family’s lifestyle so that you can ensure the pet you get is the best fit for your whole family. Additonally, ask yourself if your child is ready for a dog. Children should always be supervised when with a pet.