Having both children and dogs can be a handful, sometimes stressful and occasionally absolute carnage. However as many a parents-pet owner will tell you, the moments of pure gold and absolute love in any family of four-legged and small-legged friends far outweigh the chaos.
Kids that share their household with a canine pet, who they have to love and look after day after day, enjoy a vast array of benefits ranging from greater confidence and self-esteem, to higher levels of emotional intelligence.
"Dogs teach children more than any parent or educator can, because they don't demand the child's learning, they empower it," says Psychologist and Dog Behaviourist Laura Vissaritis. "The world does not revolve around a young child and the best teacher to remind them of this is a dog."
5 ways a canine pal can enrich the life of your child:
1 - Empathy - Looking after a dog fosters kindness and compassion which in turn develops a child's social skills
Even as toddlers, children begin developing their natural capacity for empathy — a key component of 'emotional intelligence' which, unlike IQ, can be nurtured and grown. Every interaction with a pet fosters this ability to feel for others, from reading nonverbal cues about their emotions, to offering kindness and compassion.
Studies show a correlation between attachment to pets and greater empathy, and it's easy to see how a family furball could draw the focus of a self-absorbed child outside of themselves — and help in the development of social skills.
"Whenever a child thinks of their dog's needs over their own, it means they realise that there are others aside from themselves who have rights, needs and deserve to be treated with respect," says Vissaritis.
2 - Respect - Dogs teach children to respect their physical boundaries and about the importance of consent.
A child's love and affection for a family dog is keenly felt — often quite literally, with overzealous cuddling, tugging, squeezing and stroking that's not always consensual. And while it's great to see such pure expressions of devotion in our children, their ability to respect an animal's wishes over their own brings its own set of valuable lessons
3 - Responsibility - Picking up poo, feeding and walking the dog teaches responsibility and prioritising.
Even the youngest family members have a role to play in keeping their dog healthy and happy, and this teaches them the importance of responsibility, priorities and dependencies.
"Having a dog with needs of its own means that a child doesn't always get to do what he or she wants," says Vissaritis. "From walking, to picking up their poo, the care of a dog is a long-term, time-consuming responsibility."
Often, it's in those moments when it's not 'convenient' for your child to look after a dog that they learn the hard lessons about what it means to be reliable, committed and selfless.
4 - Self Esteem - Caring for a dog gives a child the feeling of purpose and competence.
As any parent will know, infants love helping out with general chores around the house that give them a purpose. Why? Because of the feeling of competence that comes with them. When a child takes an active role in caring for a pet, even if that means just filling up their water, they get a sense of accomplishment (and no doubt positive feedback) that boosts their self-esteem.
Research shows dogs can also help children grow confidence in areas such as reading and language skills. "Children who are struggling to read benefit from the simple pleasure of reading to a loyal, loving listener", says Gill Johnson, a Professor in Education at the University of Nottingham.
A dog is a comforting, reassuring, non judgemental audience, this creates a safe, relaxed and welcoming environment for the child to learn in.
5 - Mental Health - Children with dogs experience less anxiety symptoms and have less trouble expressing their emotions.
Caring for a dog also allows children to develop a deeper understanding of mental health and wellbeing. Not only are they more engaged in the mental welfare of their pet, they are also more likely to experience fewer anxiety symptoms of their own.
Evidence suggests that dogs offer children an outlet for their emotions, and a means to manage stress. A study conducted by the National Childhood Grief Institute found that when emotional children were given a therapy dog to pet, they became visibly more relaxed and had lower blood pressure readings following the experience (the dog, too!).
A dog will love your child no matter what, this gives the child a confidant, a safe place in which to verbally pour out their fears and anger.
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