Pets have long been a part of people’s lives as companions. Having pets, especially dogs and cats, creates companionship which can relieve feelings of loneliness and enhance connection. Coming home after a long day to meet your dog, wagging its tail, excited to see you, can instantly perk up your mood and wipe worries away.
Typically, the relationship between a pet and child is one of the first relationships a child navigates outside of their parents and siblings. The child begins to understand what it means to have purpose and responsibility. Setting up a routine of daily tasks such as feeding and walking their pet gives children the opportunity to learn how to take care of something. This installs the confidence they need to take care of themselves.
As a teen therapist, I work with teenagers who struggle with anxiety and grief. I often ask teenagers, “What things in your life give you joy and calmness?” Half of the teenagers say their pet gives them happiness and hope.
Digging deeper, I usually find that kids, especially teens, struggle with feeling judged and accepted by their peers or family. It can be isolating and lonely when you feel misunderstood or judged by others—especially for teenagers who are figuring out who they are. They often feel the need to be accepted no matter where they are in their adolescent journey.
Feeling a dog’s unconditional love can be a perfect remedy. A pet simply laying his or her head on your lap or just sitting next to you, brings love and warmth. A child is reminded that their pet does not care what they look like or what they have done during the day. A pet's love and acceptance might be exactly what a child needs.
There are several emotional and relational benefits that pets provide for kids. Having a dog can be a great motivator to get kids outside and exercising. The benefits of getting outdoors, moving your body, and being mindful of your surroundings are great for reducing stress and anxiety.
Owning pets, especially dogs, is a great way for kids to learn and navigate companionship, ease worries, and increase their feelings of acceptance and security.
Ashley Hudson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing based in Yorba Linda. ashleyhudsontherapy.com