Furry friends have many pos­i­tive ef­fects on a child’s de­vel­op­ment

Sunday Mail - Body and Soul - - B+S PARENTING -

Chil­dren raised with pets are con­fi­dent, more com­pas­sion­ate and less likely to be­come asth­matic – that’s what the re­search says. A Syd­ney an­i­mal be­haviourist says all this is true and more, and that ev­ery fam­ily should have a pet.

“Even a gold­fish or a her­mit crab – kids get so much from pets be­cause they can cre­ate a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with them,” Dr Joanne Righetti says.

“Chil­dren de­velop a re­spect for their pets and this helps pre­pare them for later life. The child learns about the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of car­ing for an­other liv­ing crea­ture – even if they don’t al­ways fol­low through with their tasks.”

A kid’s best friend

Many adults re­mem­ber their own spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with a fam­ily pet who may have stopped them feel­ing scared dur­ing a storm, who lis­tened to them when all their friends wouldn’t or made them feel bet­ter when they were sad.

This ef­fect pets have on kids has been con­firmed by sev­eral stud­ies. The Cen­ter for the Hu­manAn­i­mal Bond at Pur­due Univer­sity in the US found that al­most 70 per cent of chil­dren con­fided in their pets be­cause they knew their furry or feath­ery best friends wouldn’t be­tray their se­crets.

“Pets give kids un­con­di­tional love,” Dr Righetti says. “When school friends stop talk­ing to you, you know your pet still loves you. It teaches chil­dren trust and that if you nur­ture a re­la­tion­ship you can get so much out of it.”

Re­search con­ducted at Ohio State Univer­sity found univer­sity stu­dents who had a pet were less stressed, lonely and de­pressed than those who did not.

“Chil­dren with pets are pop­u­lar with their peers,” Dr Righetti says. “The an­tics of a pet can make good top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion and chil­dren even learn to read body lan­guage from watch­ing pets.”

Pets re­duce asthma

A few stud­ies have come out in re­cent years sug­gest­ing that early ex­po­sure to cats or dogs may pre­vent the de­vel­op­ment of al­ler­gies and asthma.

A study into 12-month-old ba­bies found that if a dog lived in the home, in­fants were about 40 per cent less likely to show signs of pet al­ler­gies. They were also less likely to have eczema, a com­mon al­ler­gic skin con­di­tion.

In ad­di­tion, they had higher lev­els of some im­mune sys­tem chem­i­cals – a sign of stronger im­mune sys­tem ac­ti­va­tion.

“Dogs are dirty and this sug­gests that ba­bies who have greater ex­po­sure to dirt and al­ler­gens have a stronger im­mune sys­tem,” said Dr James Gern, in the Jour­nal Of Al­lergy And Clin­i­cal Im­munol­ogy.

How­ever, this re­search is still con­tro­ver­sial. Many ex­perts say more re­search is needed.

What’s best for fam­i­lies

There are lots of op­tions for peo­ple who don’t have the time, space or life­style for cats or dogs. Fish, bud­gies, rep­tiles and mice are fairly easy to look af­ter.

“But it’s im­por­tant the pri­mary care­giver – and that will never be the child, no mat­ter what they prom­ise – makes the fi­nal de­ci­sion on what pet you get,” Dr Righetti says. “A pet re­quires com­mit­ment.”

It’s also vi­tal that chil­dren are taught pet safety – to keep both an­i­mal and child safe and healthy. For fam­i­lies not ready for a pet, many an­i­mal shel­ters wel­come vis­its from the pub­lic to help walk, bathe and groom dogs.

This is a great op­por­tu­nity to so­cialise kids with an­i­mals and do a good deed. For in­for­ma­tion, start with the An­i­mal Wel­fare League or RSPCA in your state. + Learn how to in­tro­duce chil­dren to an­i­mals at home in Fiona Baker’s lat­est ar­ti­cle at bodyand­

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