Choosing a family pet might seem an odd topic for a psychologist to consider.
However, pets are being increasingly seen as therapeutic for a whole variety of family members, not just toddlers.
In terms of children, various pets are used in specific, beneficial treatment for those with anxiety, autism, hyperactivity problems and emotional problems. These pets can come in varying forms, from specifically trained ‘assistance’ pets to well-chosen family pets.
Many psychologists have been examining the benefits of pets. Lots of research shows pets are non-judgemental and they give love freely, therefore they are effective in reducing stress and in providing comfort when our little ones are distressed. In our increasingly traumatic world, a child’s anxiety and stress levels are reduced when she can pet a beloved animal at a time of trauma.
Interestingly, toddlers with special needs respond to having a wide variety of pets. As an example, many little ones on the autism spectrum have responded to having slightly odd pets, such as horses.
Similarly, toddlers with language or developmental delays show markedly improved self-esteem, even when only interacting with a passive pet, such as fish in an aquarium or birds in an aviary
Pets and your health
Some parents are worried about the health issues of having pets, but pets are generally healthy for families.
Some understandably worry that animals aren’t clean.
However, the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne has reported that children with pets tend to have fewer minor illnesses and ailments. Similarly, a study through Georgia Medical College found that having multiple pets actually reduced the likelihood of kids, from one to seven years of age, having common allergies.
The Royal Children’s Hospital also reported that children with pets are more physically active and less likely to be overweight or obese, as well as there being more harmony in the family. Psychologists are well aware that hyperactive children and those with anger problems are generally calmer and less aggressive when they interact positively with pets.
Of course, it is important that pets be chosen carefully as not all animals suit all households, especially when we are talking about overactive toddlers. Sadly, busy, active families often choose a yappy dog, which only adds more mayhem to the family.
Further, an overactive dog will in turn often only overstimulate a hyperactive child or lead to an unfortunate injury, such as a dog bite. In contrast, a busy family would be better choosing a gentle cat, calming fish, or a dog with a quiet, calm personality.
Which pet to choose
Choosing a family pet, while your kids are toddlers, also takes extra consideration to ensure the pet’s safety and wellbeing.
Most toddlers are somewhat excitable, impulsive and inquisitive. Further, as parents well know, toddlers like to push boundaries and experiment.
The result is that some pets can be too easily frightened by an overly exhuberant toddler, for example a gentle, quiet cat might strike back at a toddler when its ears are pulled hard that one too many times. In terms of dogs, general research suggests that mid-sized to larger dogs will be more tolerant of a toddler’s rough play.
Similarly, mixed breeds are seen as being more tolerant than highly bred pure-breeds, especially where the mixed breed includes a canine type that is known for being calm and tolerant.