New research shows that pets can alleviate children’s anxiety, as long-term stress is known to have negative effects over both mental and physical health
According to the American Psychological Association, more than one third of the children in America experience intense stress on a daily basis, this situation leading to poor sleep, headaches or stomach disturbances. Moreover, depression, anxiety, heart disease and diabetes are just a few of the considerably harmful consequences stress can induce on both adults and children.
Despite the fact that the human body responds to stress in different ways, based on individual coping mechanism and specific stress-related reactions, animals have proven to be very helpful in alleviating stress-associated symptoms in adults.
But what about children?
To answer the question, researchers from the University of Florida, led by assistant professor Darlene Kertes, have investigated in which way animals could provide emotional support targeting stress reduction in very young people.
The study assessed 101 children aged 7 to 12, whose families owned a dog. The participants were exposed to two stressful tasks known to raise stress hormone (cortisol) levels in kids: public speaking and arithmetics. After exposure to stress, the cortisol levels were measured from saliva samples.
According to the results published in Social Development journal, children that were interacting with their dogs during their tasks felt less stressed, when compared to the ones engaging in human interaction or no interaction at all.
Team leader Darlene Kertes explains: “Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support. Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less. When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”
As the way people cope with stress as children is directly linked to their ability to handle difficult situations as adults, owning a pet could have significant benefits if aiming to buffer stress response at an early age.
With the latest study finding empowering pets to be moderators of stress response, owning a dog or a cat can be the most simple way to relief your children from anxiety and help developing a healthy emotional response during difficult situations in their adult life.