Whether your child is dealing with big feelings resulting from a divorce, the loss of a loved one, or a major health scare, spending time with animals can help them cope.
Here are the main ways animals help kids cope:
- Spending time with animals elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine, which helps people feel calm and relaxed;
- Studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets;
- Animals help people with physical health as well as mental health! People with dogs have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months;
- Pets can help people, especially those with depression, get out of the house more regularly and stick to a routine;
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30% fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets. One can imagine that the stress-relieving qualities of pets likely have an impact on this statistic;
- Studies have shown that pets are facilitators of forming friendships and social support networks. They're a great conversation starter for kids who might not be great at making friends!
You can get your child a pet, which also provides a sense of responsibility and ownership, building confidence and a good relationship. But animals are a lot of responsibility. If you can’t (or don't want to) get your own animal, there are lots of ways to get your kids around them.
How to Get Your Kids Involved with Animals, Without Getting a Pet
There are a lot of ways to get your kids involved with animals, even if you don't want a pet or can't have one where you live:
- Try a "cat cafe" in a big city near you;
- Take advantage of volunteer opportunities at human societies or animal rescues, where you can walk dogs or cuddle cats;
- Not looking or a commitment? Most humane societies will let you hang out with cats for socialization purposes;
- Foster kittens or a senior dog (they tend to be lower maintenance than puppies);
- Volunteer for a shift with a rescue organization that keeps cats at pet stores like Petsmart. You can change the litter boxes and provide social time for the kitties;
- Try Equine Therapy with horses! Horses have a unique sensitivity to people’s feelings, reacting to subtle changes in their environment. They can sense a kid's emotional state, including feelings of depression or anxiety, and act as a sort of biofeedback machine for kids, responding to and reflecting their emotions. This makes them really amazing partners for therapists;
- Find local nonprofits that help kids interact with animals - many have programs to help children deal with abuse or other traumas.
A lot of these programs also have grants, so if you're dealing with a major health crisis or have financial difficulties due to divorce, you may still be able to participate.