There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your child feeling stressed, especially when you feel helpless about the situation. No matter what you say or do, you can see your little one is down, and you really want to change it. How can you pick them up? Well, research conducted by the University of Florida has revealed that pet dogs can help children to feel less stressed, offering a valuable source of social support. Perhaps it is time for a new fluffy addition to the family?
The study in question looked at 101 children aged between seven and 12 years old, all of which had a pet dog. The children’s stress levels were analysed before and after completing a mental arithmetic task and a public speaking task. Both tasks were designed to stimulate the real-life stress a child typically experiences. Situations like this typically increase the stress hormone cortisol and evoke feelings of anxiety. The children were split into groups randomly to carry out these tasks. Some of the children had their dog present for social support. Others had no social support at all, and the rest had a parent present for support. Before and after each task, samples of saliva were collected to measure cortisol levels.
The results were very revealing. The research showed that the group of children that completed the mental arithmetic and public speaking tasks with their pet had reduced levels of stress and cortisol compared with those who had their parent present or no social support at all. Of course, parents still have an important role to play, and you can check out this post on what to do when the going gets tough. Interestingly, the way the dog and the child interacted also impacted the cortisol levels. Children who did not engage with their dogs much had higher levels of cortisol levels when compared with the kids that solicited their fluffy friend to be stroked or petted.
It is clear to see that dogs can play a critical role in the development of a child. Middle childhood is a period when kids look beyond their parents for social support figures. However, at the same time, their biological and emotional capacities to deal with stress are still maturing. This is why a pet dog provides the perfect source of social support to a child. Next time your child has an exam coming up, allow them to sit and stroke their pet dog while you are testing them in preparation, and see how it impacts them. Merely cuddling up to their fluffy friend in its leather dog bed after a stressful day at school may help to soothe how they are feeling.
Of course, this research is just one step when it comes to learning about the way in which children deal with stress. But it is an important step nonetheless. If we can understand what works and what does not work, we can buffer stress responses early in life to help with the emotional health and well-being of our kids. Not only can a dog help a child to calm down and feel less anxious, but it teaches them all about responsibility, and they learn the meaning of having a true friend.
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